The post 9/11 generation of veterans have more difficulty readjusting to civilian life

Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Force Master Chief Lance Kitchens salutes a retired National Ensign during the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story 9/11 Memorial Ceremony. (Southside Daily/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Benjamin Wooddy)
Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Force Master Chief Lance Kitchens salutes a retired National Ensign during the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story 9/11 Memorial Ceremony. (Southside Daily/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Benjamin Wooddy)

They’re more likely to seek emotional support and less likely to say they “felt proud” after leaving the military.

For post-9/11 veterans mental health support was sought at a higher rate and readjusting to civilian life is more difficult than it was for the vets before them.

That’s according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of more than 1,200 veterans which showed 75 percent of post-9/11 vets were deployed at least once compared to 58 percent of  pre-9/11 vets and were twice as likely to have served in a combat zone.

As a result, 35 percent of post-9/11 vets reported they sought support or help for emotional issues compared to just 10 percent of their pre-9/11 counterparts.

More common among the newest generation of veterans is the difficulty to pay their bills, access health care, and the need for government food benefits while the number of vets who said they received unemployment benefits is the same across the eras.

“About half of post-9/11 veterans say it was somewhat or very difficult for them to readjust to civilian life after their military service; only about one-in-five pre-9/11 veterans say the same,” the survey reported.

Dr. Iman Williams Christians is the clinic director at The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at The Up Center in Virginia Beach where mental health clinicians primarily see post-9/11 veterans and their family members.

Williams Christians said outside of post-9/11 vets having more frequent and longer deployments than vets of previous wars, difficulty readjusting can also be seen equivocally in post-9/11 vets who haven’t deployed.

“The differences I’ve seen between combat and non-combat [post-9/11] vets is non-combat vets tend to downplay their service like they’re not worthy of the ‘veteran’ status which actually prevents them from seeking care a lot of the time,” she said.

The research showed regardless of whether a veteran sought help, 36 percent of post-9/11 vets compared to 14 percent of pre-9/11 vets said they suffered from post-traumatic stress.

For post-9/11 vets, Williams Christians said they often have trouble finding a sense of identity after service and overcoming those emotional issues isn’t as easy as they are for Vietnam and Korean War vets who can find comfort in camaraderie.

“It could be a variety of things, where they are in life, families, but also the introduction of technology,” she said. “Technology is great but it can also create a barrier for connection.”

The increased emphasis placed on mental health also plays a factor in the rising number of vets seeking services with the issue now being something that’s addressed as they’re transitioning out of the military — a “change for the better” in the approach to veteran health services, Williams Christians said.

“There’s been an evolution in therapy; for pre-9/11 vets, they were getting a lot of support therapy which means you were just kind of sitting in a group and talking about your experiences but it wasn’t very structured and there were no set outcomes,” she said. “Whereas now with evidence-based practices, there’s a formula or a goal in mind and outcomes we measure.”

The Cohen Clinic at The Up Center is funded by private nonprofit, Cohen Veterans Network, to provide military vets and their family members with mental health care at little-to-no cost thus “filling the gap” in available services for veterans.

Williams Christians said the clinicians offer “brief, client-centered therapy” for mental health issues including depression, anxiety, PTSD, adjustment issues, family issues, child behavioral problems and are “actively making an impact by removing barriers to care.”

RELATED STORY: This foundation opened a mental health clinic for military vets and their families in Virginia Beach

“If you are in crisis we will see you the same day if you don’t have a way to get to the clinic for an appointment we will provide transportation, and if you can’t find a babysitter, we will coordinate childcare onsite,” she said.

The more than 1,000 adults who were also surveyed and majority of veterans from all generations agreed, “veterans are generally looked up to by most Americans.”

And, even though they’ve carried the burden of serving in the longest war in American history, about 80 percent of vets, and a large majority of post-9/11 vets said they would advise a young person close to them to join the military.

To learn more about the Cohen Clinic at the Up Center, click here, or to read the Pew Research Center’s full study on The American Veteran Experience and the Post-9/11 Generation, click here. 

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