Military News

How veterans with PTSD can get back to civilian life

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Ditaranto, a behavioral health technician at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, hands a patient a check-in form. Ditaranto, a native of Debary, Florida, says “Mental health is essential to mission readiness. Helping our warfighters is our priority.” PTSD is a condition that affects many veterans and non-veterans alike. (U.S. Navy photo by Jacob Sippel, Naval Hospital Jacksonville/Released).

After dedicating several years to a structured military life, it can be difficult to come home and adjust to a civilian one. Depending on what your military experience was like — and whether or not your service consisted of combat — you may be coming back with depression, anxiety or PTSD. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 4.7 million veterans have service-connected disabilities, including PTSD. However, by seeking support from friends, family and a therapist, veterans can work through the changes and thrive in a civilian lifestyle.

Here are ways that veterans with PTSD can get back to civilian life

Veterans and PTSD

Veterans are one of the largest demographics to suffer from PTSD, as serving on active duty during a war can consist of high-stress, dangerous and violent situations. PTSD symptoms can be exacerbated during times of change and uncertainty, which many veterans experience as they rejoin civilian life and move on from their time in the military. Both PTSD and these changes can cause one to feel a loss of control, leading to anxiety.

U.S. Army Soldiers conduct a night patrol in the mountains near Sar Howza, Paktika province, Afghanistan.

Finding work after years of service in a specific military role can be particularly challenging. However, because this is a notable problem for veterans, the government offers incentives for businesses that hire veterans. 

There can also be problems that stem from adjusting to being around your family regularly again, especially when they don’t understand the challenges that come with getting back into the civilian groove. They may misinterpret your attitude and behavior, and not give you the time and space you need to feel comfortable during this change. Miscommunication can make this worse for you and your family. The impact of PTSD spreads far beyond the effects it has on you and can end up hurting your loved ones. 

Unfortunately, these negative circumstances can create a vicious cycle of trouble readjusting. The longer it takes to get a job, the more stressed out one becomes about money, and the more uncertain they feel in ever being able to readjust. If the family is impatient and pushes the veteran to get back to their old, normal life, more stress could ensue. It’s a balancing act of taking measured steps in the direction towards civilian life and dedicating a sufficient amount of time and effort to self-care.

Returning to civilian life

In the name of self-care, it’s okay to take a little bit of time immediately after getting back to relax at home, catch up with family and get into a consistent schedule. However, being idle for too long can make it difficult to get back into the workforce, as it can reduce your confidence. If you’re having trouble getting back into a flow, consider speaking to a licensed therapist, as having someone challenge your thought processes can help you work through depression and PTSD.

PTSD dog
Rosco, a post-traumatic stress disorder companion animal. (U.S. Army National Guard Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell, 130th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade Public Affairs/Released)

There are many jobs out there that favor veteran hires. Postal service jobs offer competitive pay, consistent hours and give preference to job candidates who are veterans, with over 113,000 veteran employees. Veterans are assigned points based on certain criteria. Those with higher points have better chances of being hired for a particular position. 

These points are distributed for things such as serving during wartime, serving in a campaign that resulted in an award, veterans who are disabled, and so on; the more points you’re assigned, the higher priority you’re given as a job candidate. These government jobs offer great benefits and can provide stability for veterans who need to feel safe as they get back into the swing of things. 

Henry Chong, a recruiter with U.S. Customs and Border Protection speaks with military job seekers about career opportunities with his department. CBP photo.

If you’re one of many veterans who joined the military in order to have their tuition covered through the G.I. Bill, this can be a great segue into civilian life, as school can be thought-provoking. However, take it easy in your first semester, as difficult classes can trigger stress-induced PTSD, which can take a toll on your mental health and ability to keep up with classwork. Like with family and work, self-care is an important part of adjusting to civilian life and should not be ignored. 

Veterans often struggle to adjust after serving several years in the military, and this struggle can be worse for those suffering from PTSD. However, by taking care of your mental health through self-care and/or a counselor, as well as giving yourself time to adjust to home life, working a new job, and going back to school, you can overcome PTSD symptoms and get back into the kind of life you want to be living.