War, as the saying goes, is hell. But for many who’ve served, the real battle begins when they return home. Welcome to another deep dive here at SOFREP, where we peel back the layers of romanticized heroism to reveal the raw, unvarnished truth about war and its aftermath on warfighters.

Impact of War on the Physical and Mental Health of Service Members

War profoundly impacts the physical and mental health of service members who put themselves in harm’s way to defend our nation. It’s no secret that the trauma of war can take a heavy toll on the mind and bodies of those serving in our armed forces. From PTSD and depression to combat injuries and chronic pain, the impact of war on the health and well-being of our service members is undeniable.

One of the most significant challenges facing our military veterans today is the prevalence of psychological disorders such as PTSD. According to a study by the National Center for PTSD, approximately 15.7% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD. The condition can manifest in various ways, from hypervigilance and nightmares to flashbacks and intrusive thoughts. It can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life.

The effects of war on physical health are equally grave. Many service members return home with chronic pain or injuries sustained during combat. Traumatic brain injury (TBI), for example, is a common injury among military personnel exposed to blast waves from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Department of Defense states that over 450,000 military members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000. I happen to be one of them and feel I am in very good company. 

Chronic pain is another significant issue, with some studies suggesting that up to 60% of veterans returning from war experience chronic pain.

It’s not just combat injuries that take a toll on service members’ physical health. Exposure to environmental hazards such as burn pits and other toxic chemicals can lead to long-term health problems. For example, studies have linked burn pits exposure to increased risk of respiratory problems and cancers. At the time, we knew soaking everything in mogas and lighting it on fire probably wasn’t good for you, but we’d deal with that later. Well, my friends, later has arrived, and those burn pits have come back to bite us on the ass like an angry alligator. 

The impact of war on service members’ physical and mental health is undeniable. However, the good news is that there is help available. The VA offers a range of programs and services designed to help veterans cope with the physical and mental health challenges of war. These programs can include everything from PTSD counseling to chronic pain management and rehabilitation services.

Identifying Stressors Affecting Veterans After Returning Home

For many veterans, the real battle begins when they return home. The challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life can be overwhelming and stress-inducing. As such, it is essential to identify stressors affecting veterans after returning home.

One of the significant stressors affecting veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The condition is characterized by intense, recurrent, distressing memories or flashbacks of traumatic events experienced during battle. It can cause severe anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

Another stressor is a physical disability resulting from injuries sustained during deployment. Many veterans come home with physical disabilities such as lost limbs, traumatic brain injury, and other physical injuries. These disabilities can affect their ability to work and engage in daily activities, leading to stress and adverse mental health outcomes.

A third stressor is employment. After serving in the military, many veterans struggle to find gainful employment in the civilian sector. This can lead to financial stress, further exacerbating mental health issues. Once we do return to employment, it’s often not the same. The camaraderie isn’t there, nor is the sense of purpose or brotherhood. At the very least, this can lead to boredom. At the other end of the spectrum, it can cause serious resentment. 

Social connection is yet another stressor. Many veterans experience a loss of social support when they leave the military. The camaraderie and brotherhood they experience while serving are not easily replicated in the civilian world, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Steps for Supporting Our Heroes in Times of Need

As a nation, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who risk their lives in defense of our freedoms. However, that debt doesn’t end when they return home. Many veterans struggle with the transition from military to civilian life, and it falls upon us to provide the support they need to succeed.

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That’s why we must take steps to provide veterans with the tools and resources they need to cope with PTSD. This might include counseling, medication, and peer support groups, among other options. It’s essential that we make these resources as accessible as possible so that veterans can get the help they need quickly and easily.

Another critical step in supporting our heroes is ensuring access to educational opportunities and job training programs. Many veterans struggle to find gainful employment after returning home, and this can add to the stress and anxiety they feel. By providing training and educational opportunities, we can help veterans gain the skills they need to succeed in the civilian world.

We can also support our heroes by advocating for policies promoting their overall health and well-being. This might include initiatives to improve access to healthcare and mental health services or reforms to the VA system to make it more responsive to veterans’ needs.

Ultimately, supporting our veterans is about recognizing their sacrifices on our behalf and doing our part to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to thrive. Whether through counseling, job training, or policy advocacy, we must work together to ensure every veteran gets the support they need to succeed in civilian life.

Want to know more? Check this book: “Military in the Rear View Mirror: Mental Health and Wellness in Post-Military Life”