The challenges faced by our war veterans can never be fully understood by those who never went to war. In addition to the horrific sights, sounds and smells there are the feelings of loss and inadequacy at not being able to do more in critical situations and in spite of their best efforts losing those close to them. War leaves scars that are long and deep and that sometimes impact a combat veteran for a lifetime. This is why we need to always be respectful of their histories and their sacrifices and be aware of their needs. For those who understand their needs like, Meredith Iler, who through the charity Helping a Hero provides housing for disabled vets, the goal is to make them feel appreciated and at home. Here are some things we all can do to show our war veterans we love and respect them.
Be patient with them
The adjustment from a war zone to everyday life in the US is dramatic and often traumatic. Many veterans have lived in dangerous conditions for extended periods of time and have not had the chance to fully readjust themselves to a different reality. The military is aware of this need for an adjustment period, and demands that all returning vets receive one on-base, but still the change is so great that there will undoubtedly be issues that linger. Keep this in mind when you encounter a veteran. He may be having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life and needs time and understanding. Be patient with him or her and always offer an open ear to listen to any issues he or she might have about an inability to get right back into civilian life. If the person is really struggling, suggest a veteran outreach center for them to visit and in fact offer to escort them there. Give them the time they need to get normalized ad be patient no matter how long it takes.
Don’t ask them to recount any war stories
War in the movies is not the same as what happens in real life. The reality is that real war is frightening and causes emotions and anxieties that sometimes never subside. When you ask a veteran to recount war stories you are asking that person to go right back to that emotion stirring event. The soldier may have lost close friends and been injured and these memories never go away. So never ask a war vet to retell battlefield stories. Instead you can ask about any non-combat good times he or she may have had during their enlistment. If the vet brings up a battle stories, try and steer the conversation to a different topic if you notice him or her getting overly emotional.
It is often important to be aware that some vets may have sensitivities to certain things like loud sounds and sudden movements. If you are or become aware of this, take note and adhere to the behaviors they need to be comfortable. If you find an war vet upset with you and raising his voice, remain calm and never take it personally. If they do not want to talk about a certain topic relating to their enlisted time, let the conversation change to a new topic. For newly returning vets, it will often take six months to get their bearings about them. So act natural toward them, act human. Many vets are struggling with what to say, and a lot of times they’ll say the wrong things at the wrong time. Be gentle and allow them some mistakes and encourage them to continue to talk.
It is important to note that note all war veterans have emotional or psychological issues from their time at war. We should be careful to not treat them different than anyone else generally speaking to ensure they do not feel like they are damaged. The key is to pay attention and react based on the person and the situation. Beware of how they are feeling and acting and adjust your behavior to fit theirs.