A simple “hello” normally does the trick, but maybe you or a Veteran may wish to connect.
Unsure How to Connect with a Veteran but you would like to provide Support?
In our research we heard many people express:
"My; partner, parent or grandparent, just never talks about it."
Family and friends often struggle to provide support for their wounded warriors, this may be due to the increasing complexity of veterans’ feelings of handling things alone and may be resistant to communication and compromise the ability to be supported. Some just need to leave their service in the past. It is extremely important to acknowledge privacy and respect, however what happens if the Veteran wants assistance and you would like to know and learn to connect in other ways, or need to understand what your loved one/friend is going through. This is a personal experience and new concept of change, puting the Veterans back in control and knowing your Veteran.
Many family members experience the stressors of their loved one’s service or even their P.T.S.D. as it comes to the fore; some Veterans may show frustration from “stupid questions”, “too many stories”, “hearing; I understand, I’ve been there but in a different way, I read a lot and respect our Veterans, or I had someone I knew that served”. This may lead to some Veterans exploding and prevent reaching out for assistance, as they feel it is too much or they are not connecting as they wish, where it is easier to just isolate and give up.
The waiting times for claim lodgements; mounds of paperwork, text-book support/not life lived, type of communications, complex government systems, policy and procedures, hundreds of support organisations, hundreds of programs, broken promises, reduced or nil rural engagements, and many more situations can build up as mind fields, an explosion ready to happen can leave families and loved ones feeling that they have to mop up against the whole bureaucracy of the perceived support displayed in the public eye. When it comes to payments, we may not be able to control or resolve the concerns Veterans and their families have but we can always find ways of assisting or directing them to other short term or systems they never knew.
Stories connect people, and most veterans' families and friends want that connection, but veterans may still not want to talk about it. Some may never want to claim from DVA. Therefore, if a Veteran is reaching out for assistance, we sometimes have to ask Veterans why, then listen, and we may be able to connect them for their individual needs rather than a blanket service or controlling what we think they need.
Here are some comments we have heard from Veterans and this may assist you to know your Veteran:
“I tell stories to anyone who will listen. I am never finished talking about it and never will, but I realise that no one gets the point of what I want to say so I stop telling the stories.”
“I won’t talk about it as I have memories no man or woman should have to live with.”
“Even the funny stories often end with, "And the next day, ………, then I realise I am back to portrayed as morbid"
“Why would anyone really understand or want to know what happened over there, and what really happened inside of us”
“No matter where or when, I find no pleasure in reliving the event”
“Our story would be too much for our loved ones to hear”
“My experience is hard. Hard physically, hard mentality and hard emotionally. It is not, nor will it ever be something anyone wants to hear or relive”
“Death and destruction sneak into the edges of my story, and I don’t know if I can handle the surge of rage or the tears that follow close behind”
“I hate - really hate when someone who has never been in combat mouthing off “on what they would have done”
“We are a proud group but the more someone talks about it - the less they lived it in my books”
“I served during a time of relative peace, yet the years I spent it taught me that even during times of peace, there are a lot of places that aren't peaceful. Trying to keep the peace is almost as difficult as being in a war”
“Except in real life, there is no balancing the scales. We have done what we've done, and we have become what we've become. It can haunt some of us as it does me every time, I close my eyes. Nothing I do will ever return me to the time before service. It's up to me to accept what I have done and what I have become, because I am a different person than before”.
“If you have not been in the Defence Force, and especially if you have not been in actual combat, the experience is difficult, if not impossible, to translate into words”.
“There are things in life that people experience that they are happy to know that other people never will. Things that you could not possibly understand unless you experience it. Just be glad that you don't know.”
“People tend to ask stupid questions. “How was it?” Well, the bed was uncomfortable, the room service was horrible, the beach was full of IEDs, and I walked it for months without ever finding a margarita bar or the ocean. Would not recommend it to my friends.”
“I don’t like getting reduced to “only” being a veteran. I was me prior to my service”
“That’s it. All my life before and after my service has become insignificant, the only thing that counts is being a Veteran. It’s good to find us and make money from our service or obtain accolades for helping us”
“A Veteran meaning has changed, it often comes with “what rank were you”, oh you have been a grunt in the trenches, you cannot possibly be qualified or good enough to be listened too”
“Most veterans that I know, like myself, will talk about the silly things”
We know that supporting Veterans is vital, but are we getting it right? We know that Veterans struggle to transition to civilian life after returning from service, which places a strain on their mental health, but do we really listen to what type of connection they need, or do we know what connection they did have in the service?
Connection means: 'Esprit de corps (pronounced es-pree deh core) translates from French as group spirit. It is a synonym for words like morale, comradeship, and purpose. In its strictest sense, its applied only to military groups, who together form a sense of purpose and comradeship which is what they experienced during their service'. This may mean that Veterans may better connect with other Veterans to discuss their experiences in the service, as they have lived the experience and truly understand each other. These support systems can help Veterans feel worthy again, aid with families to feel more secure in their future. Although it may not seem like it, there are ex-service organisations and resources out there for veterans facing intense challenges.
Transitioning out of the service and being disconnected may lead some veterans to turn to drugs, drink, and other extremes to make post-defence life more manageable. It’s great to keep the camaraderie going, but if we encourage this as the norm or a way of supporting Veterans, this can lead to struggles down the line and land some in serious risks of incarceration, suicide or at harm’s way, sometimes another Veteran (that does not have trauma experiences in the service) can assist whilst professional help is being sought.
Veterans who may be struggling with physical or invisible ailments developed during service may need connection different to their comrades. No connection is the same.
We heard a Veteran state "I just feel lost and wondering what my purpose and mission is now". We may need to remind Veterans that they are strong, and they have big hearts, they have gone through some of the biggest sacrifices and a roller coaster of emotions during their whole service. What is different now is that they may have, without knowing, lost the sense of comradeship, routine, and stability and the sense of purpose or belonging. Veterans experienced an involvement in a system and environment that made them feel themselves as an integral part of. Most when they were young recruits/cadets, they were embedded into a system of brother in arms, building a unique bond between those who serve together, strong bonds between them forged by their shared experience in releasing their childhood structure. Therefore, can we foresee that Veterans, by their comments in our research, don’t actually forget the conflict or loss, as such, but the camaraderie and collaboration, meaning their mission may be, that they are seeking their identity, continuing to transition subconsciously, even though they have already discharged from the ADF. Veteran ex-service organisations are then perhaps the most well-known support networks available for veterans across Australia.
From our research, at the AV Connect we are establishing a new concept, and initiative, where we are promoting ALL ex-service organisations, no brand, product or hidden agendas. Information and benefits are entitlements and therefore we feel every Veteran and their families should have an easier and less complex way of obtaining it. We are simply releasing information, hints, and support avenues for the Veteran to maintain dignity and control of their own identities, all without expecting any monetary gain, control or wealth. The wealth is in providing freedom for the Veteran to choose if they wish to build a purpose and mission to connect in their civilian life, other than the service that our Veterans and their families sacrificed for us for so long.
Families and friends are the pillars of support, and we need to listen and know how to approach a Veteran and move forward, leading them to be the survivors of strength and maintain their resiliance they successfully gained in the service.
You don’t need to have had involvement in the defence force in order to communicate effectively with a Veteran in civilian life. Don’t feel intimidated, even if you don't have experience within social services, counselling, or effective communication, Veterans are human, and they have their own identity. Applying the same principles of good communication together with a little bit of knowledge can give us confidence in this area. Just with other people, each Veteran is an individual with their own story, and a range of identities other than a Veteran.
Veterans have a wide range of experiences about their time in the service and it is important to avoid overgeneralising or stereotyping. Some Veterans may be proud and still use their retired rank and others may hold it to their heart and don't wish to display it. Asking a Veteran "what rank they were" may trigger or cause a feeling of invasion of their privacy or a stigma that rank defined their hard work. Some Veterans loved their experience in the service, but we need to be mindful that some just don’t want to relive it. Some like “thank you for your service” whereas others feel it comes across as hollow or off-putting, especially if the veteran has conflicted or negative feelings about their service experience. Similarly, saying they are a “hero” may be a good feeling for some Veterans, but others may seem empty or even be triggered by their experience. One point cannot be emphasised enough, never ask a Veteran if they have killed anyone, however, we should not be afraid of saying the wrong thing and then not say anything at all.
How do you approach a Veteran without taking their identity, and to know when to say thank you for your service?
Ask “do you mind sharing with me what you did in the service? Or “How has your service shaped you and how does it factor in how you see the future?” Questions like this validates the range of feelings a Veteran has regarding their service and allows them to share as much or as little about their service and experience as they wish. The answers you get may let you know whether to spend more time talking about their service or to move on to connect them through other parts of their identity and assistance.
Family members are often the backbone for finding Veteran support!
Now that we have taken small steps in communicating and assisting Veterans, how do we acknowledge that even the ones that haven’t served, live, feel and experience the service as well? The experience of war and defence is not isolated to Veterans, it is also wives, children, mothers, fathers, family, and friends that are affected.
Veterans are among those at the greatest risk for mental health impairments. Often, families also face hardships due to stressors associated with deployment, postings, rehabilitation, and the effects of trauma. While we may think that families may only be involved in physical/mental care and support, family members and caregivers may also assist their Veterans through the claims and appeals processes. Frequently, the families take a front row seat to see how service-connected disabilities impact not only the Veteran’s life, but the lives of those around them.
Rehabilitation into civilian life is difficult. Going from a structured, rigorous environment where most things were provided, and knowing exactly what to do and what the rules are, to a competitive environment where there is little structure and lots of options, can be overwhelming. How well and how fast a Veteran recovers from seen and unseen wounds, depends greatly on whether s/he gets support from family, friends, and professionals. However, that support should not come at the expense of that family or friend’s own health and welfare.
Family members and Veterans require connection!
Support is available every day to Veterans, Caregivers, and their families and friends to help them connect with resources for managing life’s challenges and finding solutions that improve their lives, it is just a matter of how to provide that valued support and where to connect.
We need to make sure we are now taking the right steps in listening to all Veterans and their families no matter what type of service, rank, length served or locality, as they have supported our Country in a way most of us could never fathom. The day Veterans left their families to attend initial training is the day they began their sacrafice to serve, not knowing what laid ahead of them. Not all Veterans are able to or want to return back to the service they once loved or loathed and every support or ex-service organisation is here to asssist and guide them to a healthy and better tomorrow.
This information is not to be misconstrued or taken as medical or professional advice, it is to open up discussion as an opinion point.
Care about the individual needs of Veterans and their families,
Offer services tailored to individual needs,
Network and unite together to make a difference,
Next time stop, listen, and make a difference by,
Executing the talk and start to walk your support, and remember to
Connect a Veteran to an ex-service organisation for the past, and
Take the steps to seek assistance from professionals for the future