Advocating for veteran support has been a passion of mine.  I grew up learning of the struggles veterans face when returning to civilian life from my grandfather, a veteran Marine. Now, a veteran myself, I know all too well the difficulties our service members deal with, in their attempts to find a new reality once they return from combat.

I wanted to write this blog today because I think it’s hard for civilians to understand the position veterans are in, and why they face some of the issues that plague them after their military service is over.  I’m sure you’ve all read news articles highlighting the most common issues; homelessness, unemployment, the mental and physical conditions affecting many of our veterans.  But before you can begin trying to understand the cause of these issues, I think it’s important to consider the biggest struggle our veterans face and that’s the mental transition from active duty to civilian life.

The strength of our nation’s military is based on a team mentality; everyone does everything the same way at the same time.  While serving, there are very few opportunities to make a decision on your own; most decisions are made for you by your leaders.  Regardless of what branch you serve, all members dress the same, walk the same, eat the same, and operate on the same rigid schedule.  Now imagine the challenges one might face when trying to transition from that type of existence, back to a normal civilian existence.  No one is there to tell you what to do and how to do it, anymore.

Many of our service members, and especially those returning from combat, have been living their life in situations where every decision could mean life or death.  Upon returning home from war, it’s difficult to find meaning in what most Americans know as everyday living.  There’s a scene in the movie The Hurt Locker, that I think really sums up the point I’m making.

At the end of the movie, the main character has just returned home from Iraq.  While serving his tour, he was a part of a bomb squad and everyday he dealt with life or death situations.  In this scene, he’s standing in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, just staring at all the boxes of breakfast options; unable to make a decision.  It’s difficult for him to choose which cereal he wants to buy because the whole notion seems utterly ridiculous.  He’s used to making decisions that will lead to continued life, or death.  Who cares what kind of cereal he picks out!

This scene really resonated with me, because I understand the struggle.  It’s so important that our veterans receive the support they need to make a healthy transition to civilian life and I think the first step in that process is for all Americans to try and understand, or at least recognize, the issues our men and women in uniform are facing.

American civilians are blessed to have men and women who volunteer to serve and protect this great country of ours.  Because these people answer the call, others can sleep soundly in their own beds at night, they can enjoy family barbeques and work in the field of their choice, they can celebrate freedom of speech and of religion and they never have to experience the brutal reality of war. 

Our veterans sacrifice everything they have, many of them laying down their own lives, so that the rest of our people can enjoy freedom.  The very least owed to our veterans when they return home is to be shown compassion, gratitude and understanding.  I encourage everyone reading this blog to try and understand that returning home from war is just the first step down a very long road for our veterans.  They need all the love, support and recognition they can get. 

I hope you’ll join me in my effort to raise awareness for these men and women and show them how much we appreciate all they have done for each of us.