Counseling Services

Resources For Returning War Veterans

Normal Feelings about an Abnormal Experience

As a result of the acute traumas and general stress that characterize life in a war zone, military personnel frequently experience an array of symptoms and reactions during the transition back to their homes and civilian life. Caused by psycho-biological reactions to extreme stress, these are normal, expected responses to the experiences of highly abnormal war-time events and are in no way a sign of personal weakness or inadequacy. Further, with the passage of time and the opportunity to live in a more tranquil environment, these symptoms and reactions typically diminish.

Common symptoms and reactions experienced by returning war veterans include:

  • Insomnia.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Recurring thoughts and memories of war experiences.
  • Hyper-alertness (i.e., difficulty relaxing or feeling safe even in an unthreatening environment).
  • Applying combat reactions to benign stimuli (i.e. being startled by a loud noise or unexpected, quick movements).
  • Grief and sadness over losses.
  • Guilt (e.g., over actions and/or inactions, surviving when others died).
  • Anger (e.g., over command decisions, not being adequately trained, not having necessary equipment, acts committed by the enemy).
  • Impatience and low tolerance for frustrations (e.g., civilian rules may seem irrelevant or meaningless).
  • Difficulty connecting with and trusting others, especially those without war-zone experience.
  • Anxiety about being redeployed.

Again, the bulleted items above are all normal responses to the very abnormal events and conditions experience in war, and they usually diminish over time.

Resource: James Madison University Counseling Center for Returning War Veterans