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The Decompression Dilemma

  • PTSD

Veterans Yoga

In our efforts to reach out to the veteran community we run into challanges actually getting veterans to admit to having readjustment problems/issues. The following article describes some of those problems/issues.

The Decompression Dilemma

Project:  Help veterans through the trials of homecoming.  There is an immediate need of support from the civilian sector.  Military training does a thorough job of compressing civilians into soldiers.  We do not do as good a job of decompression of soldiers into civilians while preserving the positive aspects and attributes of military experience. Healing the consequences of “invisible injuries” sustained in combat besides is also a challenge worth noting.  There are no processes nor programs for decompressing from military stress and trauma prior to, during or after separation from the military.  Countless veterans reenter society each year with emotional and physical stress with no assist from nor with no understanding having the resources to comfortably integrate veterans  back into family, community and civilian employment. Veterans are trained to “complete the mission at all cost.”  It is unacceptable from their point of view not to not be self-reliant, ask for help, or receive assistance when offered.  This barrier to appropriate care and/or assimilation is evident among all veterans to one degree or another.  The “best efforts” of the military, VA, and human services providers are not yet enough.  Pentagon studies reveal 44% of veterans shun help that labels them as “high risk.” This group is prone to “alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, suicide and incarceration.”  Nearly 60% of veterans who suffer combat consequences perceive barriers:


1.  Fear of stigmatization

2.  Fear documentation of medical records

3.  Take enormous personal pride in being a warrior (aversion to appearing vulnerable)

4.  Apprehension speaking to civilian counselors, non-combat veterans

5.  Avoid at all cost appearing broken or in need of fixing

 Veterans may recognize something is wrong. But, they are cautious about who they tell and the amount of detail they share.  Veterans share may only share what they believe is “safe.”  Important information needed for diagnosis or referral to care is left unsaid due to fear. Military culture teaches men and women to “bite the bullet” or “drive on” or “suck it up.”  This affords the veteran no access to “help” and reinforces ignoring danger signs of a pending mental health illness.  When the condition gets too problematic to carry on, the initial stages of illnesses have already advanced into a much more complicated stage including: self-medication (prescriptions, alcohol or other drugs).  The veteran may not actually be predisposed to be aware that she/he has changed or is acting differently.  This is sometimes called denial but in the situation facing veterans, denial is compounded by military acculturation.  Veterans may not be able to gauge their own ‘true’ feelings nor believe something is really wrong with them for fear it might hurt their career, fitness for duty, perceptions of them by other veterans or something may happen to them or their family.  

Being concerned about being invalidated, minimized or marginalized if they “speak up” causes veterans to ENDURE.  This is a conditioning to “stay safe in a war zone.”  It may take years to shed the self-protection and mutual protection military mindset after returning home.  If and when, veterans do seek help, they may have been told:  “It’s all in your head.”  This further distances the veteran from seeking help and reinforces self-talk that seeking help is shameful, blameful and awkwardly weak on their part.

Veterans generally do not know whom they can “trust” as a contact to seek help even if ready and somewhat willing to take the risk.  Overwhelmed by the HUGENESS of VA paperwork, lack of personal mentoring seeking help, not knowing where to start with community based human services, makes it harder to try and easier to do nothing to get overwhelmed even further.

When the veteran is the sole financial provider, admissions of possible challenges to anyone is perceived as having consequences to be avoided.  Real or imagined loss of income is a THREAT.  Therefore, if any information is shared, it will be partial rather than total.  

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