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Challenges in Demobilization and Homecoming

To much of the civilian world, it might seem as if the return home is the solution to all the Service Member’s problems.  But coming home has its own challenges.  As one Iraq War veteran interviewee said, “You never really come home.”

Read A Chaplain’s Experience Coming Home

Losses and Isolation:  Whatever their bodies’ stress reactions might be, many returning veterans are also living with the loss of military jobs, careers, and relationships with coworkers (Padin-Rivera, 2006).  Hutchinson and Banks-Williams (2006) noted a number of losses, including:

  • Profound disappointment at being separated from the military, especially if their separation was due to administrative action or their inability to complete their missions or commitment to the military
  • Loss of military structure and lifestyle
  • Loss of the military career, problems finding a good job, changes in roles and responsibilities in the family, physical and/or psychiatric injuries, the quality of their reception from civilians, disappointment at the loss of idealized images of the family, and “social isolation due to ambivalence regarding the mission” (p. 68).

Sense of Alienation:  Homecoming for this generation of veterans does not hold the cruelty that many Vietnam veterans experienced at the hands of some civilians.  However, the nation’s current widespread support of service members is accompanied by mixed views of the war in Iraq.  This sometimes makes it difficult for veterans to know whom to talk to about their experiences, and how people will react (Padin-Rivera, 2006).  Hutchinson and Banks-Williams (2006) noted a number of other ways in which this sense of alienation appears:

  • Many returning veterans fear negative judgment from loved ones.
  • Nearly a fifth of all Soldiers deployed to Iraq reported marital concerns or problems.
  • Civilians sometimes ask Service Members and veterans if they have killed or seen others killed.  “On some level, the media sensationalizes the war experience without reporting the day-to-day experiences and concerns that soldiers may have.  Being part of human destruction as either warrior or witness is a devastating, emotionally compromising experience.  The soldier may experience an inquiry like this as a retraumatizing event” (p. 69).
  • “One soldier indicated that he expected the country to rally around the troops and support the mission.  He expected the ‘World War II spirit.’  Instead the response was the ‘Vietnam rejection’” (p. 68).

Bringing the Injuries Home:  The sophistication of military medical units and personnel has saved the lives of countless Service Members who would have perished in earlier wars.  Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) (addressed in greater detail in Post-Deployment Stress Effects) can change personalities and relationships and bring about considerable alienation back home.  And many serious injuries are claiming limbs and facial features.    “Disfigurement is a physical loss that often can have far-reaching psychological, social, and emotional aftereffects” (Padin-Rivera, 2006, p. 13).

Hutchinson and Banks-Williams also note the special challenges of coming home with only the invisible wounds left by combat stress injuries:

  • Guilt at having no visible wounds is a common reaction, including dismissal of or shame about any psychiatric wounds they might carry.
  • “Physical damage suggests strength, fearlessness, sacrifice, and honor.  Mental damage may suggest weakness and dishonor” (p. 68).
  • Guilt at having survived when others did not can make it all the more difficult to express or seek help for the symptoms of their post-deployment stress effects.

Common Thoughts Among Returning Veterans:  In Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their Families, Armstrong, Best, and Domenici (2006) catalogued a number of beliefs and automatic thoughts that many veterans reported after returning home.  These are reprinted verbatim below:

Common views on self-worth (p. 136): 

  • I don’t deserve love from my family any more
  • I’m incompetent because I didn’t save my buddies
  • I failed at war
  • I am a bad person for the things I did at war
  • I’m not worthy of anybody’s care
  • I’m weak for asking for help
  • I’m useless, now that I have a physical disability
  • If I told you what I did when I served, you would hate me

About relationships (p. 137): 

  • I can’t relate to my civilian friends anymore
  • I’d rather be by myself than with my family
  • I feel like an outsider even in my own home
  • I think something is wrong with me because I don’t have any feelings for people I used to care for
  • Others will die on me like my military friends, so why should I bother getting close?

About meaning and purpose (p. 138):

  • Nothing matters, now that I’m home
  • My responsibilities here are nothing compared to those I had in the military
  • I don’t have any purpose or motivation for living
  • I’m not sure the war was worth it
  • What is going on here in the US is trivial compared to what’s going on in Iraq
  • The only satisfaction I get these days is following the news so I can hear how my buddies are doing
  • Civilian life is boring and meaningless

About spirituality and faith (pp. 138-139):

  • I no longer have faith that God exists
  • My higher power betrayed me
  • I’m too bad to be loved by a higher power
  • How could there be a God, given what I’ve seen?
  • God can’t protect anybody
  • God isn’t fair


The material on all of the Clinical Pages is taken directly from the draft version of Finding Balance After the War Zone:  Considerations in the Treatment of Post-Deployment Stress Effects, a manual under development for the Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center and Human Priorities.  This draft is copyright © 2008, Pamela Woll.  Reprint permission is universally granted, but attribution is requested.
Click here for References and Other Resources.
Click here to link to a PDF file of the current version of the clinician’s manual draft.
Click here to link to a PDF file of the accompanying booklet for veterans.

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