Our annual practice of honoring Veterans each November reaches far past closing the post office. While it’s great to acknowledge the efforts of our military past and present via a blanket Facebook post, we can also use this day to expand our understanding of a culture and way of life that we’re not familiar because we lack shared experience.

Like most trauma, our Vets may return home from combat with the hallmark after-effects of poor sleep, recurring nightmares, and a highly-sensitive fight or flight response to seemingly everyday noises or incidences. The general public could learn more about how previous experiences travel home through the body and the brain so we could each be more aware.

Therapist Robin Walters-Powell treats Veterans who have returned to civilian life. She finds one of the more un-talked about repercussions this population of people experiences in homecoming is a challenged sense of belonging and value. Our military does a tremendous job of training its recruits to follow command, put the needs of the troop as the priority, and to execute with precision. Once our soldiers return to civilian life, our highly individualized approach to everyday living can become an overwhelming hurdle to connecting to loved ones or the community at large.

Our service individuals desire connection to society,  yet often our society lacks the language or culture that they’ve been trained to operate. Of course, a lack of shared experience – especially in regards to oversees tours and active duty – poses a large barrier to connection: civilians can only imagine or lean on Hollywood’s renditions of battle. With the lack of experience often comes lack of understanding and even compassion to the fact that these experiences have shaped the way our military professionals see and understand the world. Even in non-combat Vets, the structure provided in their years of experience, such as the practice operating based on given orders, feels foreign to the ways of American business and work.

So how can our community truly honor Veterans this November? Robin offers a few suggestions:

  • Recognize that the way a service person sees the world is not the same way you see the world. Everyone’s worldview is based upon experience and the military experience is different but neither wrong nor bad.
  • Affirm the contributions of Veterans and the way they benefit the group at large. Speak to the specific ways that their presence makes life better for those around them.
  • Hire our highly-skilled Vets for jobs that require training in specific areas. The military trains these individuals for a wide range of duties that will serve our community beyond enlistment.
  • Support local agencies designed to connect former military with other military individuals. FOCUS in Findlay offers a Battle Buddies program to foster support and mentoring between military individuals in civilian life.
  • Listen with patience without intent to change or correct. Validate past experiences and help them find healthy ways to use those experiences in the community.

 

To consider expanding your understanding, Robin recommends the work of Sebastian Junger, such as his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging or any of his series of TedTalks.

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