Written by Kurt M. Leonard, MSW, LSWAIC, MHP (Healthy Counseling Center; Spokane WA)

We all seem to be much aware that military veterans face daily challenges with managing readjustment back into civilian life following a term or terms of service.  What we commonly overlook, however, is the depth and breadth of this ever increasing trend in our own state.  Current Washington state census data indicates that of our approximately six million residents, roughly 9% have served or are currently serving in one of the five branches of our armed forces.  This places Washington among the top group of states in our nation with common representations of military service.  Our veterans are everywhere among us, and we are all closely proximal to our service men and women within and throughout our communities.

Readjustment from military culture to that of the civilian world is often complex and multi-layered for most veterans.  Many veterans can become somewhat overwhelmed by the difficulties of reintegration back into their families and social spheres.  Moreover, navigating the inscrutable VA system of claims, benefits and opportunities for health care, education and housing, not to mention employment, can be both daunting and disheartening.  Truly, the VA system continues to fall short of meeting the needs of our service men and women.  But that’s just the beginning of the readjustment challenge.

What our veterans most lack, overall, is our genuine support right in our own communities.  This references our patriotic respect and appreciation, and our empathic understanding, patience, and graciousness to really listen to their voiced concerns and inherent frustrations.  It’s popular patriotism to say yes to hiring a vet, but veteran unemployment in our state is hovering around 17%, and yet stands at 8.5% overall.  Veteran unemployment is more than twice what it is for the general population.

Conversations I have had with veterans seeking gainful employment bear common themes of rejection.  They include; being “over-qualified”, having job skills or training that are not notably “transferable” to the civilian sector, and an unmentioned but seemingly ambient fear held by many potential employers that the vet behind the application may not be mentally stable within the workplace.  And of course, such fears are equally unfounded and prejudicial; with an in-your-face smack of profiling.  We can find these fears largely fueled by sensationalized media reports and ignorant conjecture.

Let’s us all put aside any political leanings associated with war and our unfounded fears and really demonstrate supportive attitudes and actions towards our soldiers.  They happen to be our own family, friends and neighbors.  If we deeply value our preserved freedoms and liberties, then we should prove it by how we treat and entreat our national force of protectors.  We do our country and our state the greatest disservice by any indifference to the needs and aspirations of our service men and women.  Let’s not just throw answers at the hard questions our vets ask of us, but rather strive to find tangible solutions through our courageous and decisive actions.