Military Veterans: Role of psychologists in the behavioural and mental health

Many countries spend billions of dollars in securing their borders and the population inside the respective countries. The USA heads the list of global military expenditure with an annual budget exceeding $570 billion, though other major economies are not far behind.

Military personnel have same aspirations like anyone of us

Behind the chunk of this money are men and women in flesh and blood, just like anyone of us. Most of us seldom get an opportunity to spare a thought to the lives of these men and women whose services keep us safe and secure to pursue our objectives in life. We all have to eat, drink and sleep to sustain life. Those are the minimum basic needs and beyond that, we have a family to love, care for, and protect. The military personnel to have the same needs and aspirations out of life though their occupation denies them these privileges throughout the best part of their career.

Things dramatically change in the combat field

The civil society may feel that the military and other service personnel enjoy a relaxed and well-provisioned lifestyle when they are not engaged in the fighting. This thought is also pretty much close to truth. But, what occurs when they are in the combat mode. Everything changes, and most often at rapid speed too. The life on the battlefield is often inhospitable and military personnel have to trek along long and hazardous terrains, carrying not just weaponry, but also rations, to sustain themselves for several days at a stretch. Apart from this, there is death and destruction watching on their face every minute till they return to their base camps or headquarters. This is but a summary of the life of military personnel, and there are associated challenges like concerns of the family, distance from the loved ones, and other psychological issues that impact the individuals.

Problems galore at the end of active service

At the end of a specified period of active service, military personnel return home and adorn the role of veterans. Some of the more common problems that veterans face include:-

  • Difficulty in making decisions or concentrating
  • Constant alertness and jumpiness
  • Flashbacks or memories and troubling dreams
  • Rapid breathing and a rise in heart rate
  • Constant exhaustion and insomnia
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Increase in consumption of drugs/alcohol/tobacco or food
  • Feeling helpless, sad, fearful, nervous, numb, shocked and sad
  • Agitation or irritability

Wounds of war

The wounds that war leaves behind go well beyond what many civilians can see. From illness to pain and mental health issues, the life of veterans is set with multiple problems and the frequencies of these problems are also more than what the general population faces.

The role of psychologists

Returning from the combat field, veterans also face a slew of health concerns including psychological and physical issues apart from psychosocial issues about family and work. Often, the problems of veterans can hardly be addressed by one stream of experts. Given the complexity of problems, a psychologist would be the first person who can patiently listen to the veterans and dissect his/her problems. Once the problems are compartmentalised, experts from the respective streams of medicine and other disciplines can be brought in to find the necessary resolutions.

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Help from a clinical psychologist comes into focus more because physical complaints most commonly seen among veterans are difficult to be codified into a single order. These include symptoms like pain, fatigue, cognitive issues and concentration problems without a specific relationship to any one disease condition. Many experts feel that the intensity and duress in a combat field make people worn out and hurting.

Mental health

Depression and PTSD are among the more common mental health issues that Veterans face. Consequently, this leads to alcohol abuse and violent behaviour. PTSD on its own disables the individual and with each passing year, other physical illnesses set in, more so when tobacco and alcohol take centre stage in the lives of veterans.

Physical health

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Chemical exposure in war zones can also trigger heart damage and war zones have several other toxic chemicals in the environment accentuating the associated health issues. Veterans also suffer from infections that are uncommon in the civil society. Since some of these infections are rare, vaccines are not available, and that adds further to the woes of veterans.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Exposure to blasts and similar activities in the combat field can potentially trigger TBI or traumatic brain injury. TBI, in turn, can trigger many cognitive issues which in some instances can lead to depression, anxiety, irritability, memory loss, and loss of motivation. It should also be remembered that most death in the combat area results from blasts or exposure to explosions.

Improved mental health can address many physical problems

In conclusion, a registered psychologist can play a crucial role in the mental health and behavioural of military veterans in more ways than one. The psychologist providing this key service to veterans would be expected to have adequate experience and exposure to a wide range of veteran issues. It takes loads of patience, understanding and compassion talking to the veterans, getting to the depth of their problems and finding solutions. We cannot forget that they are very much a part of our communities and the civil society as a singular unit should at all times acknowledge the contributions from the veterans. Helping the veterans to get socially involved, creating a network of new friends, helping them find occupations to physically engage those are fit to work, and providing them with a lively environment is one way the society can contribute to the well-being of veterans. Meantime, most nations have their established systems to care for the veterans and provide help from competent professionals from different walks of life. But, it is the care and concern, we civilians have, for the veterans that will expedite their reunion into the mainstream of life.