Why we should support our veterans transition

By Soldier On CEO and Co-Founder, John Bale

We live in a very lonely society. Our only relief is whatever deep connections we might be lucky enough to make. There are few deeper connections than those forged under the great stress of conflict or shared sacrifice.

Typically, people sign up to the Defence Force when they are still young. They join a tightly knit community where they put the team and the mission above themselves.

But military service carries a sting in the tail.

When veterans leave, it is often the most stressful period in their life. Cut adrift from the mateship, rituals, and life-and-death bonds of their service identity, civilian society can appear alien and alienating. In military-speak it is called “transition”. And for many veterans, it is scarier than war.

In his latest book, “Tribe”, the US war correspondent Sebastian Junger dives into the heart of this mystery. Why was it that only ten percent of US forces deployed to Afghanistan saw combat, yet close to 50 percent have subsequently filed for PTSD disability payments?  Junger identifies a psychological disturbance as profound and deadly as post-combat trauma, and which shares many of its symptoms. He calls it “transition disorder.”

Although US and Australian societies are different in important ways, Junger’s conclusion resonates here. Contemporary veterans can suffer a loss of confidence and identity during transition. We see it all the time. Veterans don’t know where they fit in, and Australian society is still struggling to understand who they are.

It is tough enough for those veterans who make their own choice to leave the military. It can be far worse for those being discharged on medical grounds.

Making transition more complicated is no two veterans have the same experience.

While supporting veterans we need to guard against a “victim” narrative, where civilians view all veterans as damaged and deserving of pity.  Veterans are not victims. They are our national heroes. They are assets to our country, both in uniform and out of it. Some veterans may be impacted by their experiences, but all our veterans deserve the right support and opportunities to build successful futures after their service to Australia. More than just deserving this, veterans have remarkable skillsets and personal attributes Australia needs to start recognising.

Many of the serious issues within the veteran community can be traced back to a failure to re-integrate veterans into the community during the transition phase. Our veterans have played an important role in keeping our country safe. What veterans need is employment opportunities that allow them to continue living life with such purpose and pride.

They also need support.

Those with physical or psychological impacts from their service may need support in overcoming injury and mental health challenges. With the right support, there is hope these veterans can rebuild their lives and continue to contribute to society.

But we also must look after those veterans who currently say they are ok. We know mental health illnesses can bubble to the surface at any stage, and we need processes in place to check in on our veterans from time-to-time. Looking after them immediately after war is not enough, we need to look after them for the rest of their lives.

Providing this kind of support and employment opportunities is key to ensuring we do not fail this generation of veterans like we failed the last generation.

In a society that places employment at the centre of our social worth, giving veterans a hand-up but not a hand-out in finding new work is the greatest gesture of support a nation can offer.  Thanking veterans for their service is bigger than a bumper sticker. Help us find great work for the people who committed themselves to keeping us safe. Australia’s Veterans will overwhelmingly succeed in any business or volunteering role they take on.