Written by Scott Wiman, former Green Beret and founder of Call In The Cavalry nonprofit for military veterans
Over the past ten years of being out of the military, I’ve noticed that the process of adjusting back to a civilian lifestyle can go smoothly for some military veterans, whereas others can really struggle with it.
Unfortunately, it took me years to accept the fact that I was one of the type of veterans that had trouble with my reintegration and did not understand why. I was so caught off guard by the complexity and difficulty of it, that it is the only time in my life where I couldn’t even offer a coherent verbal response when friends and family would ask me about it.
Without knowing how to solve this problem, I attempted to counter it by diving head first into business ventures and acquiring new skills. By doing so, I had hoped that my relentless pursuit of business ventures would help offer me some reprieve from this mental struggle.
The short answer is that it didn’t.
Factor #1: Lost sense of purpose
For me, serving as a Green Beret in the US Army was one of the most meaningful things that I have ever done in my life. My life was filled with a deep sense of purpose, and I was honored to represent our country abroad on multiple tours to help give Afghan people a chance at a better life. After getting out of the military, the subsequent loss of this sense of purpose was far more impactful on me than I would ever would have anticipated.
Factor #2: Loss of acquired stature once out of the military
From my perspective, the military does a great job at rewarding the actions of good soldiers through awards and increased rank and stature among their peers. Some of this stature or recognition came from situations in which a soldier had to risk their life to achieve them. When a soldier leaves the military and inevitably loses this acquired stature, it can feel a lot like we lose a part of ourself.
Factor #3: Loss of community
Since soldiers often go through a lot of deeply challenging and influential experiences together while serving, a substantial amount of solidarity is created among people who serve together. When a solder leaves the military and doesn’t have access to this community anymore, some individuals can find this loss hard to bear. Fortunately, this can be offset by joining a veteran organization like Fight The War Within Foundation or Call In The Cavalry nonprofit.
Factor#5: Lingering mental and physical challenges
I cannot think of another circumstance in life where you are exposed to such a concentrated amount of good and bad experiences, like you are while serving in the US military. The sheer volume and speed at which these experiences occurs, can make it very hard for a soldier to adequately process them in real time. I noticed that only after I got out of the military, and when life began to slow down again, I was able to finally fully process them. On top of lingering mental challenges, a lot of veterans will also have to contend with ongoing physical injuries that occurred while serving.
Factor#4: For a lot of veterans, asking for help can feel a lot like admitting to being “weak”
It’s no wonder why so many military veterans like me had issues with reintegration, when you think about the combined effects of a veteran losing their sense of purpose, their community, their acquired stature and potentially having ongoing mental and/or physical challenges. As hard as it might be to deal with all these losses at the same time, for a lot of military veterans, it’s only made worse by having to admit to these issues and ask for help. A common ethos in the military is to not show weakness, which can be very helpful in producing strong hearty soldiers, but also can be be very corrosive and hinder a veteran from seeking help. It took me years to realize that asking for help is sometimes the only way to overcome the challenges and ultimately become a better version of yourself.
Potential strategy for improvement: Over the past decade of reflection, I’ve come to understand that the deep sense of purpose I acquired while serving in the military had more to do with the people I was able to help while abroad, instead of the firefights that we were in. In my opinion, the schools that we built or the medical clinics that we conducted for the poor, seemed to cause the majority of the longterm positive effects and goodwill for our country. This slow realization led me to search again for a means to make a huge impact on other people’s lives, and after years of searching, I finally discovered the amazing power and transformative effects of doing charity work. For me, being able to help impoverished families regain their dignity and safety has filled me with a deep sense of purpose, which has had a positive effect on almost all aspects of my life.
If you’re a veteran who reads this and thinks you might also benefit from one of our yearly veteran led charity events, contact me at Call In The Cavalry (callthecavalry.org ) and we can go change some lives together, including our own.