How can we citizens serve our soldiers?
by MARY ELLIOTT-KLEMM
Writers Alliance of EDC, involved community member, co-founder of the El Dorado Trail.
Have you ever conversed with a veteran about how it feels to return after their deployment? Recently I spoke with Josh Elder, MD, Army Reserve Officer and Combat Veteran who recently deployed to the Middle East. He shared his experience in his own voice (The views expressed are his and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Air Force, Department of Defense or the US Government). My eyes were opened.
Joshua W. Elder, MD, returned several months ago from deployment and reflected on his experience…
“For me personally, coming home from a combat zone was a transition – nothing like I had ever experienced before but reflecting the feeling of being an other – I relate it to you losing someone close to you and no one really understanding what you are going through.
The transition is still challenging for the soldier and for your family and community to understand even when the soldier is not experiencing PTSD or any mental health conditions. For me, and for many other Veterans I have talked with, reaching out and checking in to see how I was doing or how my family was, or helping in some small way with the transition – meant the world. It really comes down to service. We all have a responsibility as citizens to serve our Veterans and their families that have made these sacrifices.
Don’t think that the government will take care of all of this. It comes down to us as Americans and our small communities that ultimately make Veterans feel at home.”
Joshua W. Elder
I asked him, “How can we citizens serve our soldiers?”
The average citizen realizes that men and women are sent off to foreign countries like Iraq or Afghanistan and fight in wars. We have little understanding of what that experience is really like. Less than one percent of Americans have served their country, and a small percent of those have deployed to a combat zone. As a result, the majority of American citizens are not directly connected to the wars, nor to the experience of those engaged in those wars. That puts us at a great disadvantage as we attempt to communicate with Veterans when they return from a deployment.
So, how can we citizens serve our soldiers when they return?
We should not assume that our governmental agencies are taking care of these Veterans. Our governmental agencies may provide foundational support, but families and communities share responsibility in helping with the transition home. Additionally, not all Veterans are in a position to take advantage of the services. Some are concerned that they might be labeled as having a mental disorder and thus do not reach out for help.
In order to serve our soldiers we need to be aware of the transition that each veteran is making. It is different for each person. There is little public consciousness of what a normal return looks like.
Here is a description from Federal Practitioner (Fed Pract. 2017 Jul; 34(7): 16–22). “More than half of post-9/11 combat Veterans report at least some difficulty with postdeployment transition. Frequently encountered symptoms of this period include impaired sleep, low frustration tolerance, decreased attention, poor concentration, short-term memory deficits, and difficulty with emotional regulation….”
The symptoms of this period are totally normal. They can be compared to some of the symptoms you may have experienced during the isolation of COVID. I recall that many of us felt like we were in a fog. There were jokes about not knowing which day of the week it was. This was all normal for the trauma brought on by the pandemic. It is also normal for the returning soldier.
In conclusion, how can we citizens serve our soldiers?
We can take the time to reach out. If you know a veteran that has just returned, ask them how they are doing. Think about how you reach out to a friend whose spouse has passed away. You reach out gently, not to intrude. The person may not yet be ready to talk with you, but you understand. They know that you care. These things take time.