Human Services Guide

Working with Returning Soldiers and Veterans

As a Human Services professional it is very likely that you will interact with returning soldiers and combat veterans at some point in your career. Combat veterans have very specific specialized needs that are different from most populations you will work with. For those soldiers who are returning from combat experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very daunting challenge. It can also be difficult to acclimate to regular life after living in life or death situations for extended periods. This has been popularized in films such as the Hurt Locker and many films about the Vietnam War. This is not however a fictional occurrence but is one that is very much a profoundly challenging aspect of life after combat for our returning veterans. PTSD affects everyone differently and the degree to which it impacts one’s life can vary tremendously with individuals, even those who experienced the same traumatic event. Things like natural resiliency, physical and emotional make up and the upbringing of the soldier can lead to wildly divergent levels of impact when exposed to traumatic events such as combat. The keys to dealing with combat veterans is to understand that their experience is not something that can ever be fully understood by non-veterans and that creating a safe and compassionate space with respectful communication is key. As a human service professional, it is our job to hold space for those who have suffered the unthinkable in combat and to help to ease them into the transition from military to civilian life.

In addition to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, many soldiers find that they have to deal with very different realities outside of the military system. The structure and individualized tasks of the military will often make returning to one’s regular life a surprisingly challenging task especially for those soldiers who entered the military at a young age or who have been in the military for many years. The routines and rhythms of military life are vastly different from those of civilian life and it can take months or even years for soldiers to adjust to the pace and responsibilities of living outside the military.

There are many ways that we as human service professionals can help returning combat veterans. We might help direct the veteran to job training that helps them develop the skills to find employment as a civilian. Directing the veteran to an apprenticeship program where they can learn a high skill trade. Finding special community art classes to help heal symptoms of PTSD in a creative setting might be something a veteran’s case worker might facilitate. Some of us might help them find affordable housing. For others, providing psychological counseling services whether as a Psychologist, Counselor or Licensed Clinical Social Worker to veterans might be something we find a strong resonance with.

Due to the long term nature of the various wars in the past 11 years, we have an ever increasing number of combat veterans coming home after active duty. They have special needs that are unique to them and it is important to have a working knowledge of how to help our veterans. Whether we take on the job trainings around Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Vicarious Trauma or specialize in the Psychology of Trauma, there are a multitude of ways that we can insure that we have the highest level of knowledge and act with the greatest degree of professionalism when we interact with our combat veterans. There are a tremendous variety of ways that soldiers might have need of human services professionals, it is our job to provide that service with the utmost respect and compassion for our returning veterans in order to honor the sacrifices they have made on our behalf.