The Challenge for Returning Veterans
Bill Cottringer

Veterans Day is a day we can all be thankful for the men and women who generously and unselfishly served our country, past and present and some with their lives, to keep the rest of us safe and secure in the freedom we cherish. This article is a special tribute to the military personnel now serving or returning from overseas duty in the many “war zones” around the world.

There are some serious challenges for veterans returning from these war zones, whether completing one, two or more tours. For those of us who can empathize with returning Vets about these challenges from our own direct experiences with this phenomenon, our challenge is to help the others, who can’t relate, to at least begin to understand the nature of these challenges. My bumper sticker says it all: “Never again will one generation of Veterans forget another.”

There are four main areas of common problems for our Veterans in adjusting, after coming home from a war zone. Of course reactions to the traumas of these situations vary, as does the memory of them, and what we can do as friends, families and employers depends upon the extent of the maladjustment. When it worsens into PTSD symptoms, sadly it is time for intervention by the professionals and all we can do is hope and help as we can.

Think about these problems, the situations in your own life that may have created similar challenges and how you re-adjusted (or didn’t) and why. And then understand and help as you can.

Overflow of Negative Emotionality

In war zone military service, days and nights are most often filled with an array of negative emotionality—fear, anxiety, distain, contempt, guilt, depression, ambiguity, aggression, pessimism etc. This can be a very dangerous out-of-balance state when not quickly counter-balanced with the positive emotionality of love, hope, peace, compassion, understanding and general optimism. This counter-balancing becomes urgent when the environment changes from a lop-sided negative one to one where mixture is reality, home here.

Life is generally a delicate mixture of positive and negative events; However when things get out of balance towards the negative side, then that leads to expectations in that same direction and what you expect is what you get, and so on. Accordingly, our emotional make-up tends to remain behind the experiences of reacting to these events, which sometimes requires some serious effort in undoing.

Action Adrenalin Overload

Our overseas warriors go from the extreme 24/7 adrenalin of heightened security and safety awareness and perpetual stimulation, emotionality and action, to almost complete boredom and nothingness. At least this is what the common perceptions are (and what is remembered afterwards) and perceptions are reality. Some Veterans describe this as like falling from the sky and landing on the ground.

This can be a very disturbing transition, creating an animation and action void that needs to be filled with legitimate, meaningful, and productive forms of work, relationships, hobbies and other action activities, before the illegitimate forms surface. Surrogate adrenalin is sorely needed but not easy to find. Try jumping out of an airplane or that new thrill ride in Las Vegas, and see how quickly you can get addicted to it, despite any initial anxiety or fear. Unfortunately, all our major social problems today involve such an addiction.

Empathy Disconnect

Non-military/war zone family, friends, employers and community groups lack the empathy for the Veterans’ experiences and are sometimes at odds with the value, purpose and results of their military service. More often than not, even the values behind the war are in conflict. This pronounced disconnect is very troublesome with a Veteran trying to reconnect upon return home. The real difficulty is that this lack of empathy runs two-ways and neither side can understand what all the fuss is about.

There is a wise saying that “you don’t have to be a canary to sing.” Empathy experiences about any of the common situations we all get confronted with sooner or later in life, provide common eye glasses to see our commonalities in better focus over our differences and facilitate the connect with each other emotionally. Sometimes you just have to think about this and remember something you have forgotten, in order to see what they see.

Missing a critical sense of “belonging”

This is another killer void often responsible for some very bizarre behavior, even in normal people without any undue stress. The challenge for Veterans is in trying to re-connect and re-belong to something different from what they are used to, upon being thrown into a new situation requiring change. They have to figure out how to change to fit into the new situation at home first, when they don’t think it is them who need to change or be managed.

The military organization and camaraderie Veterans are leaving provides a very powerful and satisfying sense of belonging, which may be the most important and urgent drive in life for us all. The void that occurs must be filled with opportunities to belong to something upon return—family, friends, church, work, sports teams, volunteering or something that gives them this important sense of belonging to something worth belonging to.

Thank all the Veterans on this Veteran’s Day, past, present and future, and grow your understanding of what our heroes coming back home have to overcome to regain their places in the quest for success and happiness in life and belonging back home here.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the scenic mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), and “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), and Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden). Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or