Camouflage is something well-known to our military and veterans.
They are constantly trying to remain concealed for their own protection, whether in training or active war zones. Eventually, camouflage becomes a way of life.
They are trained to not let anything “personal” get in the way of being prepared and alert so they don’t inadvertently miss a threat due to introspective distraction. Even after returning home and re-entering civilian life, those habits remain. They want to appear strong for those around them—even as they dissolve slowly into the abyss of their pain and fears.
They reject the idea of treatment so they don’t have to drop their camouflage and run the risk of
exposure, when in reality it is something they should be given unconditionally in light of everything they have offered in service. For all the ego and bravado, there is equal amount suffering and trauma. It is unfathomable that those who have been through so much should continue to hide their problems once they are safely back home.
1. Stigma Surrounding Assistance
This is a broad term and can be seen in a variety of forms. Veterans feel that in the military there is a rationale of “just ignore it” or “man up”. So, instead of facing the razzing of the peanut gallery, those with problems become experts in emotional camouflage.
No soldier or veteran wants to be labeled as weak. They don’t want their loved ones or comrades to think less of them or admit to having problems that they can’t handle themselves. “An army of one” can become an accurate description for veterans of any military branch.
2. Ego and Self-Medicating
At the same time veterans don’t want to admit it and lose face, they may be experiencing physical pain or psychological trauma from their experiences. These can require medications, but some veterans may again be hesitant of the stigma associated with using prescriptions to treat problems they mistakenly assume they should be able to conquer on their own.
Another problem lies in misusing medications prescribed. If they find a medication that works well, they can inappropriately use it to conquer a variety of pains aside from its intended use. This can also be done through alcohol use (and abuse) for psychological and emotional pains as an alternative to getting therapy or mentioning problems to a medical professional for treatment.
3. Labeling, Loss of Benefits, and VA Wait Time
There is also the fear of being labeled by the military, which in cases of illnesses—including mental illnesses and substance use disorder—can be cause for dismissal or even dishonorable discharge and loss of veterans’ benefits. This fear is a catch-22, in that it’s a very real possibility yet at the same time the VA offers programs for not only mental health but substance abuse treatment as well.
Actual counts for the homeless in general are difficult to pinpoint due to their transient nature, but estimates show over 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Another 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk for homelessness due to lack of support networks, poverty, and miserable conditions in substandard or overcrowded housing.
Homeless veterans likely aren’t receiving benefits since they have no address to send correspondence to and are unlikely to have the resources to get to VA clinics for treatment. Also, there is a higher chance that these veterans are suffering from mental illness that is unmedicated—or self-medicated—so it is that much more difficult to get them to treatment.
5. Rural Areas Have Fewer Resources
After facing the noise and chaos of battle, a number of veterans return home and choose to settle into relatively rural areas. While this can be a welcome change of pace and create a more serene environment with fewer PTSD triggers than living in a city, there are drawbacks as well.
There are decidedly fewer treatment options in these areas in comparison with urban areas, both catering to veterans or civilian-run. Coincidently, there are just as many places to fill the need for self-medicating—especially using alcohol—including local veterans’ gathering places such as AMVETS halls, American Legion bars/restaurants, or VFW posts.
As mentioned in number 5 above, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be a problem for
many veterans—especially the ones who have seen combat action. Any traumatic experience has the potential to cause PTSD. Seeing someone killed, being the one who killed another person, and being exposed to constant life-threatening situations are logical causes for developing this debilitating disorder.
Triggers such as crowds of people, loud noises, and surprises can cause flashbacks or reactions in the person suffering from PTSD. This is a treatable condition, but as has already been mentioned, veterans aren’t the first ones to go pouring their feelings and emotions out to a doctor or seeking help from a psychiatrist. Even if the PTSD is being treated, it can still lead to self-medicating and cause dependence on substances ending in either addiction or overdose.
How You Can Help
These are only a few reasons why veterans may not seek help on their own. Many suffer from a combination of problems and a combination of reasons are keeping them silent. This is where those around them can step in.
If you notice your loved one who has returned from service or deployment is acting strangely, showing signs of self-medicating via alcohol or other substances, is displaying red flags for prescription (or illegal drug) misuse, or are just not being themselves, you can help! Try convincing them in the most supportive, loving way possible, to seek out a doctor’s advice.
If they resist because of any of the reasons listed here, have a comeback ready. Be prepared with information for VA-sponsored or civilian treatment programs in your area. If necessary, get others involved and plan an intervention. There are professionals available to help with this process if you feel stronger persuasion is needed.