The United States military veterans are largely marginalized and treated without the respect they deserve. Not only are there currently over 30,000 homeless veterans in the United States, about 45% of them suffer from mental disorders. While these topics are often addressed by Congress and the U.S. Government branches, nothing ever seems to come out of the discussions. Yet, there is one issue that plagues veterans which is not often discussed – their lives after separating from the military. Yes, indeed the military does try to prepare veterans for life after their service, but they miss a key aspect such as dealing with their newly found free time.
The military lifestyle is an all-encompassing way of life. Your entire lifestyle from morning to night is basically dictated by the military. Duty weekends, deployments, and unpaid overtime are just regular parts of scheduled work. Mandatory events, birthday parties, and divisional or departmental get-togethers during long weekends happen regularly enough to consume a substantial amount of your free time. The rest of the time, you’re surrounded by people who are also military, especially if you live on a military installation, so family barbecues and dinners are a common trait of the “military family”.
Essentially, if you’re in the military, there is hardly any time to be alone with your thoughts. But, when a member transitions to the civilian life, they are hit with the realization that after work, their lives are nobody’s business. The only thing that would impact their careers is bringing about some disgrace to their employer’s name. Their lives for once are finally their own and it can often be a liberating, yet lonesome, feeling.
These are some points discussed by Carl Fosling, a senior editor for the website Task and Purpose. In his article, Fosling discusses the concept of the loneliness and boredom that can affect the lives of former military members after separation. While his article addresses the topic of how the lives of veterans change into an independent lifestyle that is no longer protected by the “military cocoon”, it does not, however, highlight the dark truth behind this reality.
The “military cocoon” as Fosling notes is a protective barrier that is filled with white noise. The noise, of course, is a metaphor for a life that doesn’t provide ample time to be alone with your own thoughts and ideas. Time in the military is consumed primarily by your job. The remainder of your time will be taken by your friends and co-workers who also live a military lifestyle. Members of the armed forces are constantly being bombarded by different aspects of the job. This particular trait of the lifestyle has the unintended side effect of preventing servicemen from introspection.
Veterans are literally sent out into the wild without ever learning how to cope with silence. They’re not equipped to deal with peace and quiet; there simply weren’t enough moments of silence while they served. Furthermore, veterans aren’t prepared for a lifestyle where being alone is the norm, especially if they’re single or divorced and their potential friendship pool becomes even smaller. Because of this, it’s common to see veterans turn to the bottle, gambling, or even internet addiction.
Distractions exist everywhere and, without the ability to cope, veterans are left at a disadvantage. They’re unable to cope with their new lives. These problems are compounded by the ease of access to unhealthy time-wasters such as cigarettes, dip, and even food addictions that are readily available. These time-killers also serve as further distractions to try to help with their loneliness and potential fear of self-discovery.
But, this issue of loneliness is a multilayered problem. The military is practically a society of its own. Service members have their own culture, traditions, habits, and common traits that bind them all together. In order for the problem to be fixed, the culture of the military itself has to change. Similar to how training is offered on the benefits of using sunscreen, lessons must be offered on introspection. All members should be encouraged and provided time for self-reflection, yet that’s sadly a luxury that can’t be afforded.
Time is a big constraint for the military; it seems like everyone is always in a rush to complete their task and move on to the next. Any time spent not preparing for combat is time given to the enemy. Essentially, time is a luxury that can’t be afforded and, without a moment to breathe in silence, there isn’t really room for growth. A particularly harsh aspect of the military culture is how loners tend to be seen as “weird” or “odd” and treated like pariahs (similar to high-school). In fact, military members (particularly the enlisted) are often accused of retaining the same mentality they had in high-school. How could you blame them though, most of them joined as soon as they obtained their diploma or a General Education Degree (GED). One thing teenagers aren’t known for is their ability to self-reflect on their actions. Time constraints are bad enough as they stand and, as long as they can perform their job, the military doesn’t care if they still act like children.
But, as Mr. Fosling notes, without the maturity to handle being alone and bored, veterans can endanger themselves and their relationships. It’s not enough to give veterans a transition assistance class. They should also focus on teaching the transitioning members about coping with these changes. Introspection is an extremely productive habit that can lead to an understanding of the self. If a veteran understands themselves, then they are more likely to be at ease with temporary boredom and loneliness.
Additionally, there are numerous benefits to introspection that can help veterans succeed in their careers and endeavors. The time spent alone can be used for personal growth and provide inspiration for creativity. Essentially, instead of looking for distractions, veterans should appreciate the time left for themselves. Loneliness can be dangerous, but it can also be freeing in healthy amounts. But, as with everything, too much of anything can be poisonous.
Extremes are dangerous regardless of what they are. The military provides an environment where there is an extreme amount of noise surrounding the lives of their members. The military is definitely not accommodating for those who seek peace and quiet either. It’s ironic that those who fight for the peace of others are among the least who have it themselves.
It’s the old adage that says, “the cobbler’s children have no soles”. Basically, those who defend freedom sacrifice their own. The military mental health system needs a solid restructuring, additional training needs to be provided on the benefits of meditation and introspection. Furthermore, the transition assistance program needs more time to focus on the aspects of personal life, instead of simply teaching resume building and providing a guide to the benefits available to veterans.
Too often do the lives of the veterans go sideways before the Veteran Affairs organization steps in to help. It’s important to find ways to intervene beforehand instead of letting it go by the wayside. Mr. Fosling concludes that on an individual level, this is one issue that helps reminds the veterans and military families that they need to take care of one another. It’s not going to solve all the problems that veterans have, but at least it will remind them that they are not alone…
Life is not easy for the veterans of the United States military. For years, they defend the lives of others, and the interest of the government, but they do so by sacrificing aspects of life that civilians take for granted. There isn’t a clear answer on how to solve the problem of loneliness, but the VA could start by providing more help and training. It’s not going to change lives instantly, but it could help save lives in the future. Until then though, veterans will have to learn to cope with the loneliness of their newly acquired civilian lives.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.