Working with Veterans Managing Grief and Loss This Veterans Day
This month, we will celebrate Veterans Day for all United States Military Veterans who have sacrificed their time and livelihood to protect American citizens.
We take the time to thank and honor all who have served, including the deceased because they made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Like many of us, Veterans will experience loss even after the battlefield. However, that does not always mean that they will express their grief in similar ways as civilians.
For some Veterans, possible death comes with the decision to serve, but the loss of their military identity, family, and the transition to civilian life can be a struggle. Dr. Welsh and Bob Kauffman, LCSW of Choosing Therapy, have many years of experience working with veterans. They have noted that many Veterans have difficulty grieving job loss, loss of purpose, and loss of future expectations of what their life may have been had they not experienced physical and mental hardships. Additionally, the military life transition can bring on mental illness, relationship problems, and unemployment for many Veterans.
When Veterans are done with war the battle actually begins. Not only does the military suicide rate currently exceed the combat death rate, but the military suicide rate now exceeds the civilian rate. For this reason, it is imperative that we find ways to support our grieving Veterans.
Here are 4 things to look for when supporting Veterans experiencing loss:
1. Addictive Behaviors
Many Veterans come home exhibiting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and use substances to help them cope with their symptoms. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1 in 10 returning Veterans seen at the VA have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Veterans sometimes find that the use of drugs helps them sleep, relax, or manage situations they would rather avoid. However, using drugs and/or alcohol can make PTSD symptoms worse.
2. Unhealthy Anger
Anger helps us cope with life's stressors by giving us the energy to keep going in the face of difficult times or danger. Military training teaches that responding to threats with aggression and is associated with survival in combat experiences. However, unhealthy anger can create problems. PTSD and anger can oftentimes go hand in hand. Additionally, unhealthy anger is associated with suicidality and violence. When anger is intense, its not necessarily a bad thing, It’s how someone reacts to anger that really matters. Signs to look for are:
- Making verbal threats
- Destroying property
- The ager is affecting work or personal relationships
3. Physical Symptoms of Grief
Many people understand the emotional symptoms of grief. However, Veterans may not show emotional symptoms initially or at all. For Veterans who are suffering from grief, physical symptoms may be more prominent. Signs and symptoms to look for include:
- Heart Racing
- Poor Focus
- Stomach Pain
- Recurring Headaches
When Veterans come home they need a community. Isolation allows addictive behaviors, unhealthy anger, and physical symptoms of grief to grow. If the Veteran doesn’t have work or potential ways to make income and feel purposeful, loved ones to spend time with, or other veterans and friends to connect with this should be a concern and should be addressed as soon as possible.
If you or someone close to you is a Veteran who is experiencing these symptoms please reach out for help. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has many support services. They provide a crisis line and firearm safety support, outreach events, and counseling services. Additionally, there are many Veteran support groups online and in person that provide a safe space for Veterans to identify their symptoms and feel seen. Lastly, reaching out to a licensed therapist in your community can provide a space for the Veteran to unpack the past, identify trauma, and allow healing.
The dedicated staff at Vaughn Greene Funeral Services is proud to honor our nation’s veterans. We are here to provide you and your family with professional, compassionate support during your time of need. Please reach out to us anytime.
About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 25 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information about our funeral, cremation, memorial, repast, and grief counseling services, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.
- Nock MK, Deming CA, Fullerton CS et al. Suicide among soldiers: a review of psychosocial risk and protective factors. Psychiatry. 2013;76(2):97–125