Jennifer is source outside of the VA for counseling for Veterans in Vancouver, Washington
Retired and returning Veterans have often seen something, been given an order or been involved in something that is too unbearable to speak about, too unbearable to think about and sometimes too unbearable to live with. Some may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their memories. Some may feel that what has been seen during their time served must be kept to themselves. There may be concern of the possibilty of upsetting their loved ones or "placing a burden" on love ones. Veterans have told me there is great concern that sharing will get back to their commanding officer through an insurance claim, risking being labeled as "crazy" or "not fit for duty" and potentially being unable to be redeployed to serve with their unit, their "buddies", the only people who truly "understand" what they have been through. Often, living with the stress from trauma interferes with a marriage, a relationship with family, and even parenting children. Returning to friends and family can be difficult because there has been so much change while away, or concern that the Veteran themself have changed so much that they are unrecognizable to people who love them. Some feel the world has kept on going without them and may question whether they will ever "fit in" again.
A young man once shared that during deployment he was often told to do something that, at home, would go against every fiber in his body, but still he would had the duty and expectation to follow through with the order. Once home and with time to "digest" what he had done and what he had seen, he began to question what happened during his time served, feeling remorse and guilt. Sometimes this digesting can be very uncomfortable, even seemingly impossible. There may not be the support needed to handle these thoughts in a healthy way. The thoughts may be so disturbing and bring up such a physical reaction that the stress is too unbearable. Some turn to drugs and alcohol, some turn to harming themselves or even harming others in an attempt to cope.
I offer counseling to Veterans outside of the VA System and am a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional.
Substance abuse and Weapons-
Drugs and alcohol offer an unhealthy safe haven, or escape, from unbearable thoughts. It numbs out the emotions and allows a short term relief from the emotional distress. Drugs and alcohol also lower inhibitions and can increase depression in people who are already depressed. If someone is feeling so depressed that they are contemplating suicide, an actual attempt can very likely occur when one is under the influence of intoxicants. It is those who feel they cannot share their experiences who feel the most unstable, the most depressed and suicidal. These can also be the people who are trying to cope by using and abusing drugs and alcohol. It is very important for family and friends to know that if they see their loved one depressed and using substances, that all guns are removed from the home and placed in a safe location so that the act of suicide by gun is no longer an option. I cannot stress enough how important this is. Guns are immediate and lethal and there is no time to think about trying to get help. I am very aware that there are other ways one can kill themselves, but this is the most immediate and most lethal method. The guns must be removed from someone who is depressed and using substances. For a Veteran, I know this can be a very difficult thing for a loved one to do and many Veterans are very adamant that their guns not be touched or removed from their posession. If you need help thinking of ways to approach this issue with your loved one, please call me, I can and will help you.
Relationship issues for the Veteran
Living with past unresolved trauma can affect your relationships. Loss of a marriage is a very real concern for veterans. Coming home to parents after a tour for the first time can be disturbing not only for the veteran but for the family. The soldier may come home changed. Depending on their experiences one may act "harder", "more emotional" or "angry". The soldier may want to avoid family, feeling like their family does not understand them anymore, or feeeling their family needs protection from burden.
It's true that the Veteran comes home, changed. Of course they are the same person, their foundation, how they were raised and molded as a child into an adult is the same. But perspective may have changed. How the world is seen, based on the experience of war, has changed. This may result in becoming easily agitated or more tearful once returning home and once again into a safe environment. The Veteran may feel that no one understands them anymore. They may appear different to friends and family, so much so that relationships crumble and fall apart. Intimacy issues and Sexual issues are common and may also arise with people who may never have had a difficult time with this before. I can help you and your partner get back on the path to enjoying intimacy again.
There is help outside of the VA, please call me.
For helpful links and additional information for veterans Click Here to go back to our Veterans Page.