Normalizing Transition Therapy & Support

Military and Veterans, Military Transition

When you first joined the military, you were put through a rigorous onboarding program consisting of training, education and acculturation. You were taught everything you need to know about working and living as a service member. Unfortunately, that same level of detail isn’t always there when leaving service. 

Why the Transition Back to Civilian Life Can Be So Hard

The transition back to civilian life can be a big change for veterans. For many veterans, it’s bigger than joining the military. 

Leaving Your Military “Tribe” 

Sebastian Junger, award-winning journalist, New York Times bestselling author of six books and producer-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo” likens the experience to leaving a “tribe” – a small group committed to a clear purpose – and going back to an individualistic society, where veterans can often feel like they’re not needed or that they lack purpose. In fact, a 2022 report found that about half of veterans sometimes feel “like a stranger in their own country.”

Mental Health Concerns During and After Transition

About half of veterans who recently separated from military service don’t immediately connect with available resources, benefits, and services. Without this support, they’re at risk for more complex behavioral health concerns. In 2020, approximately 5.2 million veterans experienced a behavioral health condition. Out of these, more than half didn’t receive any treatment within the past year. About 17 veterans die by suicide each day, making veteran mental health a crucial issue.

Related: All Veterans With Invisible Wounds Should Receive High-Quality Care

Substance Abuse Among Veterans

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than one in 10 Veterans who seek care at the U.S. Veterans Administration meet the criteria to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder – slightly higher than the rate among the general population – and more than 90 percent of them don’t receive treatment.

Adjusting to a New Work or School Environment

Adjusting to once again living a civilian life can be challenging. This is especially true for veterans who are trying to start a new career or go to school after military service. You know that you’ve learned a lot of useful skills during your time in the military, but you might not know how to apply those skills to a civilian job.

Starting or resuming college can also be challenging. Injuries, chronic stress or mental health issues can make it hard to focus. Many veterans also find it hard to relate to their fellow students who have no experience with military service or deployment. This can impact the ability of Veterans to connect with their peers, which is an important part of the college experience.

Why Therapy Is So Important During Transition

The drastic change from a structured, collective culture like the military back to an individualistic society like the kind we have here in the U.S., can be very difficult. Combat exposure, trauma and the everyday stresses of military life can also increase the risk of developing conditions like substance abuse disorder (SUD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Mental health counseling, also known as therapy, can be extremely helpful to veterans, especially during the transitional period. There’s a lot of stigma surrounding attending therapy sessions, especially for service members and veterans.

Military culture values teamwork, toughness, and self-reliance. This can prevent many service members from getting help for mental health or substance abuse concerns. Common concerns about seeking mental health care include “being treated differently by military leadership, being blamed for the problem, being seen as weak, others losing confidence in them, embarrassment, and impact on their career.” This stigma often carries on post-service, causing many veterans to avoid seeking help.

Therapy and Other Supports Should Be a Normal Part of the Transition Process

Therapy and other supports should be a normal part of the transition process. Military-to-civilian transition is a big life change, and it’s completely normal to experience stress, anxiety and other mental health concerns during a change like this. But fighting stigma is a tough job, and one that seems like it’s never done. 

If you’re a service member or veteran, do your part by touting the positive impacts of behavioral health services. If you’re experiencing a behavioral health concern like depression, anxiety, PTSD or alcohol or drug abuse, seek help and encourage others to do the same.

Transition Support at Region Five

At Region Five, we’re dedicated to supporting our veterans. If you’ve recently transitioned back to civilian life or are planning a transition, you can find information, resources and encouragement at our upcoming Veterans Helping Veterans event.

Veterans Helping Veterans is a live webinar for active duty service members, veterans, and their families to connect and receive support in the middle of the holiday season. You can attend in-person in Suffolk, VA or online via Zoom. 

Date: December 12, 2023 11:00am – 1:30pm (EST)
Location: Virtual via Zoom OR in-person at WTCSB Harbourview (7025 Harbourview Blvd Suite 119, Suffolk, VA 23435)

Discussion topics include:

  • Benefits
  • Medical Services
  • Mental Health Services
  • Substance Use Treatment
  • Community-Based Connections

See the hourly agenda and register for the webinar here

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