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Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Returning Home -- Is this Vietnam Revisited or Vietnam Surpassed?

Returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans are confronting unemployment, housing unavailability, domestic violence, substance abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injuries.  Regardless of the number of tours in a war zone these veterans have served, their second war begins following discharge from the military -- the war that begins when they return home.

Although many of the challenges facing Afghanistan and Iraq veterans are similar to those confronted by Vietnam veterans during the late 1960s and 1970s, there are noticeable distinctions.  Most Vietnam veterans served one tour, whereas many Afghanistan and Iraq veterans have served two or more tours.  Second, the wounded-to-killed ratio for Afghanistan and Iraq wars is about 15 to 1, compared to 2.6 to 1 for the Vietnam War.  This means that a much higher percentage of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans have physical impairments and the challenges they face become compounded.  Finally, while the American economy was certainly not thriving during the late 1960s and 1970s, it was nowhere near the economic catastrophe facing Afghanistan and Iraq veterans today.

Perhaps the most common threads linking Vietnam veterans and Afghanistan and Iraq veterans are the military total institution and military training.  Coping skills acquired prior to military service are replaced with skills that emphasize obedience, discipline, survival, and sacrifice.  In a military war zone setting these skills become fundamental responses to emergency and crisis situations.  In a civilian atmosphere these skills can become problematic.  Stress is a major contributor to a crisis, and as stress increases the individual's coping skills often become increasingly less effective.  Individuals who continuously attempt and fail to resolve a crisis often experience increased tension and they often descend into depression.  This may, in part, explain the high rates of suicide attempts and completions, divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, unemployment, and other behaviors that usher many of these veterans into the criminal justice system.

Public awareness/education, adequate public services, and a willingness to take proactive and preventive approaches to assist these young veterans are not apparent.   Criminal justice agencies, the courts, and legal practitioners are ill prepared to address the problems confronting these veterans.  There are viable solutions, but first there must be a will and a commitment to pursue those solutions.  Various organizations such as the National Veterans Foundation and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are providing services.  A new program, the Bunker Project, provides services for veterans caught up in the criminal justice system.  We can follow the lead set forth by these organizations, or simply repeat the mistakes we made with Vietnam veterans.

More information is available at:  $1another_emerging.pdf$4

Keywords: community corrections, veterans

Posted in Blog, Model Local Practices

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