By Pablo James Earlier this month, 38-year-old Air Force veteran, Michelle...
Schlitz on Tap: Veteran Transition
Editor’s Note: Mike Schlitz is not only a tremendous advocate for Veterans but also a friend. Mike has a Facebook Page where he discusses Veteran issues but I know that not everyone does the Facebook thing so I will be posting his pieces here as everyone needs to see them. Give him a like and let him know Ranger Up sent you. -RU Rob
I was asked by a good friend why I think Veterans are having trouble transitioning and why the Suicide rate is so high. I would love nothing more than to sit here and tell you I know the answers. The truth is I don’t have all the answers but can tell you some of my observations.
First, War is Hell. We’ve all read it in articles, seen it in movies, and saw posts on Facebook tagged in all kinds of photographs. For the average American this means very little. Please don’t quote these stats but to the best of my ability there are approximately 315 Million people in the United States, roughly 24 Million are Veterans, and about 1.5 Million currently serving. So when you start to run the numbers you can see that the majority of America has no idea what these Veterans have faced. The phrase “War is Hell” is more than just words to Veterans, but something many of them have lived. As a Combat Veteran I have a hard time explaining to Civilians what it was like. Many other Veterans have told me they feel the same way. So if Veterans can’t explain it and the average American doesn’t understand then what happens? What happens is there becomes a disconnect between the two populations. The key here is to find a way to bridge that gap and that alone has proven to be a challenge.
While conducting combat operations Veterans are asked to lay their lives on the line for the greater good, to accomplish their missions, and then return home as if nothing has happen. Unfortunately I don’t know one Veteran who has come home the same as they left. Some worse off than others, but they all changed in some way. Each Veteran’s experience of War is different and the way they deal with it is often different. Some have to engage the enemy daily, some get ambushed, and others may have sit in a Headquarters somewhere watching their fellow Service Members being killed all the while not being able to help. They have to endure this anywhere from a few months to years. It takes a toll on a person and it doesn’t help that they do it while separated from their Family, Friends, and Loved ones. After they come home some need a longer adjustment period than others, some hide it, and some are able to cope. But let there be no mistake these Veterans volunteered to risk their lives for us and they at a minimum deserve our Respect and Support. The last thing I want to add here is though they may come home different it doesn’t mean every Veteran has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and should not be labeled as such.
Once these Veterans come home life changes over night. One day you’re on the battlefield and the next day you’re back on safe grounds. While we would like to think the mind can distinguish the difference it isn’t always that simple. For me one day I was in combat zone and the next day I’m lying in the hospital bed heavy drugged. While I can’t remember what happen due to the drugs I’ve heard the stories of them having to remind me where I was. I have watched friends come home being hyper vigilant in different settings. This is a subject I could go on and on about. How this has affected countless Veterans.
One area I’ll touch on is how the families are affected. I’m a single guy but I have still seen the struggles Veterans face. Veterans having trouble talking to their Spouse, the readjustment just being around the family again, and so many other things that can tear a family apart. Fathers and Mothers adjusting to having their children around, helping take care of them, and at times getting to know their kids for the first time. Spouses and Children trying hard to fix problems they can’t see. In my own life there has been up and downs with my mother. She’s been there since the beginning of my injury till now. She is my caregiver taking care of the things I can’t, which has been a God’s send. But even though we have a healthy relationship there’s been times were we don’t understand each other’s side. For us it took time and eventually it worked itself out as it does for some families. But some Veterans don’t get that lucky.
Some Veterans come home to a spouse who wants a divorce. Sometimes the Veteran wants to save their spouse from having to deal with their issues and asks them for the divorce. Currently the Military divorce rate is somewhere between 3.5 and 3.7%. I was married from 1997 to 2003 and the military kind of pinned us against each other. Luckily we didn’t have kids and parted ways. This Career is hard on both sides and at times I truly feel the families at home have it tougher. When I was deployed I was mission focused while the families at home have to take care of the household, kids, and try not to think about what is going on overseas. Veterans get limited time at home to meet someone and sometimes they rush into marriage after a quick connection. Whatever the reason Divorce is hard on everyone and brings undue stress.
That stress can filter into work. If the Veteran is still Active Duty it can affect their performance, attention, and the care of those under them. If the Veteran is not Active Duty those same stressors can lead to unemployment. If they lose their job it can be a downward spin out of control. When they are ready to find work the economy is so bad that everyone is having trouble finding employment. The overall Unemployment rate for Veterans is 6.3% just under the National Avg of 7.9. Pretty good right? Unless you’re a post 9/11 Veteran where the rate is 10%. You’re at higher risk if you are a Women Veteran.
What this tells me is that there is a shortage of job, yes, but that Businesses don’t fully understand what the Veteran can bring to the table. Leadership, thinking outside of the box, and a solid work ethic are just a few of the tools they bring. There are 2 main issues I see. First is there is a language barrier that needs to be fixed. Businesses don’t understand military jargon, what the different military occupations do, and what kind of education and real world experience they possess. On the other hand Veterans need to learn how to properly fill out resumes in ways the Human Resource department will understand, they need help with what to wear and say during the interview process, and some need help translating their military training to what job they should apply for. Second, there’s a stigma surrounding Veterans that they all have PTSD or are going to turn into a raging maniac at any moment putting other employees in danger. Yes several Veterans have issues with PTSD, but there are different levels of function. I know several who are businesses professional now. They are determined and committed to providing the best products or services possible. I personally hate when Veterans including myself get these labels. Of course this is just a small piece of the pie. There’s a lot more work to be done on both sides, but you can see why Veterans might be having some trouble.
What happens when that Veteran can’t find work? Some get lucky and find work, but others can fall into a spiral. The first thing to go can be their motivation to find work, maybe drinking comes next, and that’s right about they start to hit bottom. If they can’t take care of themselves or their families they start to lose their self worth. The bills start to pile up and before they can realize it they are homeless. There is a huge population of Homeless Veterans. I’ve seen all kinds of statistics but the bottom line is at any give minute at least 130,000 Veterans are homeless and even higher possibility of twice that in a one year period of time. Generally the Vietnam era Veterans are the largest population, Men are the dominate population, and those with minority backgrounds being at greater risk. While it use to be Women Veterans were less likely to be homeless that has changed with a growing number of Women Veterans facing challenges.
The worst case scenario in my mind is that of the epidemic of Veteran Suicides. With all the issues Veterans face at home and overseas it has reached an all time high. The Veterans Affairs office estimated that 22 Veterans commit suicide every single day. Last year Active Duty Suicides surpassed that of Combat Deaths. There were 349 Suicides and 295 Combat related deaths. These are not just numbers, but these are our Service Members, Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Cousins, Friends, Neighbors, and fellow Countrymen. Every one of these suicides hit me personally. Having faced my own issues with this in the past it truly breaks my heart. I read these news stories, see it on TV, and hear it from my friends. I have spoken at numerous functions about this, I’ve tried to stay update with the studies, and I’ve watched are Military struggling to fix the issue. Again I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.
If I walked down the street in any major city and asked random strangers if they were aware or knew the different issue facing Veterans, how many would know? Not many. In my travels and speaking engagements I have asked those questions with blank stares back at me. Often times with people coming up to me and telling me they had no idea it was so bad. When I do come across civilians with the answers they usually have ties to the military. Someone in their family served, had a friend who served, or at one time wanted to serve. This goes directly back to that disconnect I told you about earlier. I don’t expect you to fully understand. If someone came up to me and asked about Cancer, illnesses, and other health statistics I’d have no clue. I only know a hand full of people who’ve had or beaten cancer. But I have reached out to help my friends and strangers facing those challenges. You don’t always have to understand to help.
I wish I could tell each of you all the different issues our Veterans are facing. I will be completely honest with you, I don’t know. However I will continue to educate myself and reach out to those in need. Maybe I help one find a job, maybe I just sit and listen when they need someone to talk too, or maybe I write my elected officials to ensure Veterans benefits continue. I hope we all can help bridge that gap and help these Veterans transition properly.
Approximately less than 10% of the United States population is a Veteran with about .5% actively serving to protect and preserve our way of life. The current administration keeps cutting the benefits of these Veterans. I know we are in debt and tough times call for tough measures, but our Veterans are not allowed to speak for themselves. I see the administration making these cuts and the American people cheer and vote to make these cuts possible. I think if we raise awareness some of these cuts would not be made. I feel if we invest in these Veteran’s futures then America will become stronger. It does make me mad but besides upsetting me it makes me sad. There’s such a huge burden placed on the shoulders of Men and Women who volunteered to risk their lives, health, and happiest just to be pushed aside. It’s time to wake up.
There’s a popular proverb that says “It takes a Village to raise a Child”
I think it’s time we change it to “It takes a Country to support its Veterans”
Help me raise awareness for Veterans, a better America, and for a better tomorrow.
Thank you to everyone who has Served or is Serving our Great Nation. Thank you to those who have supported our Veterans who have stepped up to make a better life for us all.
God Bless our Veterans
God Bless those who support them
God Bless America