The DCFSL Veteran focus area is intended for community-based, nonprofit organizations that offer support and services to post-9/11 US Veterans and their families.
Post-9/11 Veterans Transition from Military to Civilian Life
Those individuals “who have been members of the US military since 2001 constitute a new generation of veterans”—those of post-9/11 armed conflicts, which include Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) in Afghanistan; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation New Dawn (OND), and Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) in Iraq. In 2016, “there were 4.2 million post-9/11 veterans, of which 2.8 million served only during post-9/11. The US Office of Veterans Affairs (VA) projects a post-9/11 veteran population of just under 5.1 million by 2021”.
Veterans transitioning from the military back to civilian life go through a profound culture shift often accompanied with a significant identity struggle, which presents a new set of challenges for them to face. According to the Pew Research Center, “while more than seven-in-ten veterans (72%) report they had an easy time readjusting to civilian life, 27% say re-entry was difficult for them—a proportion that swells to 44% among veterans who served in the ten years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks”. The mental and physical health hardships that many veterans return home are one significant underlying reason for a much more challenging re-entry. But, the transition from military to civilian life can itself trigger new struggles for veterans. As veterans leave the military, they also leave a very specific and known culture and community, and transition to a less known, open-ended civilian culture in which they must make their own decisions, find new jobs, renegotiate relationships, and engage with those at home who often do not understand or relate to what the veteran experienced while in the military. Upon return to civilian life, veterans reported strained social relationships, challenges with finding and keeping a job, struggling to a find new sense of identity, and not feeling like they fit in.
Funding priority is given to the following specific areas of need:
Efforts in mental health that are of interest to DCFSL include:
- Traditional and nontraditional mental health services, such as counseling/therapy, art therapy, writing programs, animal therapy, mindfulness, etc.
- Gender-specific or family-targeted programs and services
Of those deployed over the years to Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers of those returning home with complex mental and behavioral health challenges have increased significantly. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) are considered the two “signature wounds” that vex post-9/11 service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many have comorbid mental health diagnoses with PTSD, and substance abuse often accompanies the veterans’ mental health challenges. Suicide and suicidal ideation also more likely in those with PTSD—“veterans who screened positive for PTSD were 4 times more likely to report suicidal ideation than veterans who did not, and the likelihood of suicidal ideation was 5.7 times greater in veterans who screened positive for PTSD and two or more comorbid disorders. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine states that “about half of U.S. veterans who served during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t get the mental health care they need.” It further found that “veterans who seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression or other mental health conditions can be stymied by the VA’s bureaucracy or short-staffed clinics and hospitals. Other factors such as lack of social support, distance and fear of revealing a mental health issue may discourage veterans from seeking care at all”.
Sense of Purpose and Connection
Efforts of interest to DCFSL around Veterans’ Sense of Purpose and Connections, include:
- Programs that connect veterans with one another as well as with civilians to build a greater awareness of opportunities and interests in the areas of work, education, service and/or hobbies.
- Employment and education efforts to attract, support, engage and accommodate veterans
- Programming that assists veterans in finding or developing a sense of purpose through employment, education, service, hobby, etc.
It is very helpful and important for veterans to find a sense of purpose after returning to civilian life--through employment, education, community service, camaraderie or a hobby. There are numerous organizations that host opportunities for veterans and non-veterans to connect with one another through networking or athletic events, service work, etc. that provide veterans with the chance to develop a greater sense of community and camaraderie, while also being exposed to new civilian contacts and new possibilities for work, fun or helping others, which all help lead to a greater sense of purpose. In the case of service work, research shows that helping others through volunteer or service work helps ease the military to civilian transition and improve the health and well-being of veterans.
Veterans also need meaningful assistance finding a job as well as navigating and preparing for higher educational or vocational/trade opportunities. Providing accommodations and connections for veterans in employment and educational establishments make a significant difference in supporting successful transitions for veterans. On the business side, veterans are more employed than civilians, but do not stay in a job for long. However, businesses that have developed accommodations for veterans, such as veteran affinity groups, service work efforts for veteran employees or human resource accommodations (i.e., Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve) are retaining their veteran employees. On the education front, Veteran Centers on campus, among other accommodations, have also made a big difference for veterans in need of connection and peer-to-peer support. Fit, culture and feeling valued are important to the long-term success of the veterans as they pursue education, employment and ultimately a sense of purpose.
Legal efforts of interest to DCFSL include:
- Legal help in the areas of discharge upgrades, municipal and family law
- Supporting pro-bono legal services for post-9/11 veterans
- Use of comprehensive, holistic efforts and case management services when helping post-9/11 veterans with legal services
The VA does not provide legal services to veterans, yet legal services are critical to helping veterans overcome a myriad of struggles they face as they return to civilian life and are integral to helping veterans gain greater stability in their lives.
While the VA provides many benefits to veterans, not every veteran is eligible for full VA services. Eligibility for benefits is dependent on the type of discharge veterans receive upon military separation. Veterans who receive general or other than honorable discharges may be eligible for services, but their benefits will vary based on their specific discharge status. If they receive a dishonorable discharge, they are legally barred from receiving any VA benefits. There is a great need for helping veterans gain more benefits through discharge upgrades, which must be handled through a legal appeal. Many of the veterans that receive a less than honorable discharge are often struggling with mental health issues. Helping veterans with discharge upgrades is a significant legal gap, where more services are needed and a lot of good could be achieved for veterans.
Many veterans also need to have warrants removed (resulting from unpaid tickets that they may not have been able to pay). For those post-9/11 veterans who have recently re-entered civilian life, legal issues can mount up quickly in the areas of municipal, housing and family law, among others. One legal issue can impact all aspects of one’s life. For example, a ticket that a veteran may receive for a municipal violation can then turn into a warrant (when left unpaid), which then creates barriers to employment, housing and mobility (driving) for that veteran. Many veterans that find themselves in an overwhelming legal situation, are often also struggling with post-traumatic stress or other mental health issues. There exists a significant need for addressing veterans in a comprehensive manner when they seek legal help, so that veterans can be appropriately assessed and referred to additional services with the goal of gaining greater stability in their lives.
Veteran Family Support
Family support efforts of interest to DCFSL include:
- Mental health services for spouses, children, parents and families of post-9/11 veterans
- Support services for families during and post-deployment, and when veterans returns home
- Programming for families to better understand the military to civilian transition and
- Caregiver support
- Child care assistance
The transition of the post-9/11 veteran from the military back to civilian life is also a family issue. While most veterans have VA support services upon return to civilian life, the family does not. The family has a challenging role, as they are the ones holding everything together at home while their family member serves in the military. “The military families play a key role in helping to prepare service members for deployments, providing emotional support and motivation, and assisting with reintegration after returning home”. The Institute of Medicine found that common psychological challenges of military families when their loved ones are deployed are fears about safety, anxiety about deployment and responsibilities required of the family during this time, and worries about children. One-third of children with a deployed parent experience “psychological challenges such as depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders”. It is hard for families to understand the challenges that their returning veterans are experiencing, thus the critical need for supportive services for veteran families to help them understand and cope with their own challenges, as well as those of their loved ones who have recently returned from the military.
Other Critical Needs
There are many critical needs of post-9/11 veterans, and while the DCFSL cannot fund them all, other areas of support that will be considered on a case-by-case basis include:
- Helping veterans understand, navigate and access VA services or other community services
- Providing assistance for homeless veterans via support services, case management and/or transitional and long-term supportive housing communities
- Dental health care needs of post-9/11 veterans
- Community education and advocacy about and on behalf of post-9/11 veterans
- Collaboration across service providers for post-9/11 veterans to enhance services for those not eligible for or able to access VA assistance
American Psychological Association Government Relations Office. The mental health needs, service members and their families. American Psychological Association. Accessed in May 2018 at http://www.apa.org/advocacy/military-veterans/mental-health-needs.pdf.
Morin, R. (December 8, 2011). The difficult transition from military to civilian life. Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends. Accessed in April 2018 at http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/12/08/the-difficult-transition-from-military-to-civilian-life/.
National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. (March 2018). Profile of post-9/11 veterans: 2016. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Accessed April 2018 at https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SpecialReports/Profile_of_Veterans_2016.pdf.
St. Louis on the Air. (March 12, 2018). Women a growing force among student veterans at universities across Gateway region. St. Louis Public Radio. Accessed in April 2018 at http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/women-growing-force-among-student-veterans-universities-across-gateway-region#stream/0.
Saint Louis University. (February 2017). SLU research: Volunteering eases veterans’ transition to civilian life. Saint Louis University. Accessed in April 2018 at http://www.slu.edu/news/2017/february/veterans-service-study.php.
Tozzi, J. (January 31, 2018). Half of post-9/11 vets aren’t getting mental health care. Bloomberg. Accessed in May 2018 at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-31/half-of-9-11-veterans-aren-t-getting-the-mental-health-care-they-need.
Zogas, A. (February 2017). Costs of war: US military veterans’ transitions back to civilian life and the VA’s response. Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, Brown University. Accessed April 2018 at http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2017/Zogas_Veterans%27%20Transitions_CoW_2.1.17.pdf.