It’s exciting to see your friends and family return from overseas military duty. Oftentimes, this takes place at a formal ceremony where loved ones painfully await the dismissal of the units, so they can run toward each other for that first hug in many months.
You see news stories where children are surprised by their fathers showing up at their schools. Others are reunited on talk shows or other programs. It pulls at your heartstrings to see the tears of joy as they reunite.
When the festivities end, the reality of being home can set in for a service member. They may not be themselves right away. They may exhibit new and strange behaviors or show signs of stress. They’re happy to see you, but they may need more space than usual, at least for a while.
Don’t take it personally if your efforts to welcome your friends or family home seem rebuffed at first. Transitioning back into civilian life can be an immense challenge, sometimes lifelong. Here are a few ways you can help your brothers or buddies when they come home from war.
Listen, Don’t Talk
You missed your friend or family member, and you’re so glad he is home safe. Resist the urge to ask a lot of questions, but make it clear you are available to talk whenever he is ready. They may want to forget all about their last deployment, at least for the time being.
Do not ask any questions about combat. Your loved one probably has seen and heard things too horrible for you to imagine. They may want to talk about it, but also may want to keep it to themselves or only share with a mental health professional. Stick to asking how they are doing and if there is any way you can help them that day.
Help Them Reconnect Socially
Your friend or family member is going to be set in his ways and used to a regimented lifestyle with strict rules and regulations. It may take a while for them to relax or engage in the civilian activities they once enjoyed.
Your approach will depend on each individual’s personality. Some people who served in the military were already shy or reclusive, while others may have been socially active. In any case, try to gently encourage them to be with others and to reconnect with family and friends.
One way is to host a welcome home ceremony or get together. This will allow for many people in the service member’s lives to join together in one spot to welcome him back. This will save a lot of traveling on his part, and he won’t feel obligated to reconnect with people individually.
Encourage Them to Get Help
Men who serve in the military are brave and tough, and they don’t like showing any signs of weakness. Encourage them to take advantage of their veterans’ benefits and to seek counseling or screening for PSTD or other mental health issues. Explain that it is nothing to be ashamed of and that he owes it to himself and his family to make sure he stays as healthy as possible after going through such an ordeal.
Help educate him on the signs of PTSD. If he can recognize a problem, he is more likely to seek help for it. If he doesn’t want to go to a doctor or mental health professional, encourage him to join a support group. Many support groups are offered through churches and veterans programs which make an effort to reach out to the community.
He could help his fellow serviceman while getting help himself. Plus, it’s always more effective to talk to other people who have truly been through combat and aren’t speaking about it from research experience.
Volunteer for Veteran Services
Donate your time and money to groups which help veterans. The Wounded Warrior Project and Homes for our Troops are two service groups which help veterans with funding and housing. You can join with your buddy when he’s ready to be part of it, or assist him with getting services from these groups.
The Wounded Warrior Project raises money for injured service members by sponsoring fundraising events and soliciting donations. Homes for Our Troops makes custom homes for disabled veterans so they can live as independently as possible. Once the veterans are placed in their new homes, they continue to assist them with rebuilding their lives and providing whatever personal care needs they have.
Be patient with your beloved veteran as he transitions back into society. It’s not easy going from wartime to peacetime, and it may take some pitfalls as well as successes before your friend or loved one discovers a new normal in his life. Be there for him as best you can. Help but don’t push, and let him know his service is appreciated.
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Feature photo provided by author.