Counseling Services

Resources For Returning War Veterans

Suggestions for a Successful Transition

Fortunately, there are a number of steps that veterans can take to put their military experience into perspective and regain a sense of control and normalcy. Among the recommendations to facilitate a successful transition to civilian and academic lives are:

  • Establish and maintain relationships with fellow students and college faculty/ staff.  Combat experiences often leave veterans feeling alienated from others, and they must make intentional, active efforts to connect with others on campus. Getting involved with clubs and organized activities can break down walls and connect the veteran with others having similar interests.
  • Work to find opportunities to talk about wartime experiences and transition challenges with students, faculty, and staff who will listen constructively. The Winthrop community is very supportive, but often individuals do not know how to approach and talk to veterans and spouses about their experiences in a way that will be interpreted by them as respectful and considerate. Veterans and spouses must play an active role in the success of their own transition by creating opportunities to communicate effectively with those who do not share their experiences.
  • Work to reestablish relationships and renegotiate roles with family members. Deployment causes a void within the family system that is typically filled by others adopting new roles and taking on new responsibilities. While both returning veterans and family members eagerly anticipate their reunion, changes in the family structure that have occurred during the deployment period often lead to unanticipated stresses and challenges. Veterans and family members must reexamine how responsibilities will now be divided and communicate openly about roles they want or do not want to play.
  • Understand that emotional control requires both holding in and expressing emotions. Contrary to norms on the battlefield, articulating and showing emotions does not indicate weakness and is critical to sustaining meaningful personal relationships in civilian life.
  • Reestablish or find a meaning and purpose in life apart from military service. The clear meaning and purpose that characterize a war zone does not translate well to civilian life. Make an effort to identify important values and passions and consider how they might guide daily choices and commitments. Seek spiritual fulfillment through prayer, meditation, religious practice, volunteer work, etc. Faith practices are often an important source of strength and resilience.
  • Develop good academic habits. Start with a manageable course load and set reasonable goals. Go to class and take comprehensive notes to improve focus on course materials and lectures. Establish a daily schedule to maximize organization. Let your professors know if you are having difficulties as soon as you are aware of them.
  • Take advantage of academic and personal services available to Winthrop students. Among the departments that provide services related to the common needs of veteran students are:
  • Pay attention to physical well-being. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest, and build physical activity into daily life.
  • Seek balance in life. The experience of combat can make veterans jaded and pessimistic. Balance that viewpoint by focusing on people and events which are meaningful, comforting, and encouraging.
  • Limit use of alcohol and illegal substances. Use of these substances increases the likelihood of depression, insomnia, relationship problems, academic difficulties, legal troubles and a host of other negative issues.
  • Appreciate a sense of humor in yourself and others. Humor relieves stress, produces body chemicals that improve mood, and helps us to gain a more balanced perspective. Do not postpone joy and laughter should they come your way.
  • Limit exposure to war-related news reports (e.g., news channels, newspapers, Web sites, etc.). While keeping informed of developments is important, the 24/7 media machine typically ignores stories of heroism, resilience, and sacrifice and instead focuses on the most horrific images and troubling accounts.
  • Prepare an answer to questions about your war experience. Most veterans have some difficulty sharing what happened in combat and the toll that those experiences had on them. Prepare a brief response for acquaintances and a lengthier answer for close family members and friends.
  • Connect with other veterans. Veterans often report that the friendship and support of other veterans is critical to effectively transitioning to civilian life. Other veterans have an intuitive understanding of the experience and impact of being in combat and of the additional challenges that veteran students face on college campuses.  Check out the Student Veterans of Winthrop for an opportunity to connect.
  • Grieve for and honor those who did not make it back. It is important for veterans to grieve the loss of friends and to experience and work through the emotions that are understandably attached to these losses. Work to live a life worthy of the ultimate sacrifice made by fallen comrades.

Resource:  James Madison University Counseling Center for Returning War Veterans