- Army preparing to downsize 40,000 Soldiers.
- Troops survive combat, then lose their jobs.
- Pink slips issued to Troops in combat zone.
It’s one thing to transition from the military on your own terms – after an enlistment contract is successfully completed or after a 20 year career has been honorably served. It’s another thing to be released from a career you love, enjoy, and planned to do for an extended period of time. I know how I struggled emotionally after serving 22 years and retiring on my own terms, I can definitely empathize with those who struggle through emotions after receiving a pink slip or discharged following an injury or medical diagnosis.
I remember a similar down-sizing took place after Desert Storm in the 1990’s and I understand it’s just the nature of our business (increase the force during war and downsize during peace), but it’s never easy to accept that some young family will struggle through this necessary downsizing. Not only that, the state of our country’s economic climate is much different than it was in the 90’s.
According to a 2013 report by Syracuse University, unemployment rate among Veterans was as follows:
- All Veterans – 7.0%
- Gulf War Era II (Sep 2001-present) – 9.9%
- Gulf War Era I (Aug 1990-Aug 2001) – 5.9%
- Gulf War Era II Veterans aged 20-24 maintained the highest rate of unemployment at 20.6%, compared to their non-Veteran peers at 13.2%
- Gulf War Era II Women Veterans aged 20-24 experienced the highest rate of unemployment at 23.9%, nearly double in comparison to their non-Veteran female peers at 12.1%
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, female Veterans are four times more likely to be unemployed and have a lower income than their male Veteran counterparts.
While there are many programs available to assist Veterans with the transition to civilian life, many continue to fall short in assisting Veterans with the emotional transition that takes place when they leave the military.
Imagine if you can, military members are inducted into a lifestyle that is much different than those who never donned the uniform. The way we think is different as well as the education we receive and the experiences we have during our enlistments. The Department of Defense reports that less than 1% of the US population is currently serving in the military and 7.3% of all living Americans have served in the military at some point in their lives.
I never really understood what those numbers meant until I examined my own life and family dynamics, I came to this realization during my own struggles when I transitioned from the military. I am the oldest of six adult children and the only one of my siblings to serve in the military. Of my immediate family (mother, father and their siblings), I only have 2 uncles on my father side who ever served in the military for less than 5 years.
I know of others who have generations of family who have served and continue to serve today. While that is surely something to be proud of, not many of us who join the military come from that type of background. Most of us have varying reasons why we chose the military as a career option – I joined to give my young son a better life. My 22 year career in the military certainly allowed me to do just that.
Nonetheless, I never imagined I would struggle emotionally when it was time to take off my combat boots for the last time, but I did. I also know many other Veterans struggle with their emotions as well, most choose to suffer in silence.
This is the thing that really keeps me up at night. I recall how lonely I felt when I first retired and entered into transition. I felt like, I was the only one who ever experienced these feelings. Who would be able to relate to what I was feeling? I even asked my husband, a fellow disabled Veteran if he ‘felt some kind of way’ when he retired. He said he focused on staying busy as not to have time to focus on his feelings.
That response really didn’t help me with my struggles, but it at least told me I was not the only one who felt ‘something’ about leaving the military. That ‘something’ was an emotional response to transitioning from the military. Some of the emotions I experienced were:
v Pride – I was surely proud of my accomplishment, my career
v Uncertainty – although I knew I would make it through this struggle, I wondered why I was experiencing this
v Anger – mostly at myself for struggling in the first place, I possessed the skills to take Troops to war and bring them back home safely, surely I could transition into civilian life without an issue
v Loss – loss of my identity, who was I now that I would no longer be addressed as Chief, Soldier.
And the list of emotions goes on. Not only that, I struggled to communicate with my family, friends and those who cared deeply for me. So much so, that those relationships began to suffer. That’s when I took action. I knew I had to get some help to move through this pause in my transition process and on to the life I served for, the life I deserved.
Maybe you’ve found yourself stalled in your transition process. Or maybe you’re feeling ‘some kind of way’ about transitioning from the military and no one around seems to understand. Let me leave you with these three tips to encourage you:
- There is nothing wrong, strange, or different about you that you should be ashamed of. What you are feeling and struggling through during transition, many Veterans have felt as well. The good news is they made it through the struggle and so will you!
- You will make it through transition to enjoy the life you sacrificed for. Why? You deserve it! How? Because you already possess the skills you need to make it through. If you survived a military career, whether 4 years or 24 years, you possess the skills
- Make yourself a priority. You’ve honorably served our country and others, now it’s time to serve yourself. Make your happiness, peace of mind, and progress through transition a priority! You owe it to yourself and YOU DESERVE IT!!
My mission now is to help others who may find themselves stuck in the transition process, struggling through an emotional battlefield tied to transition or needing a little extra support to move through transition on to the life you desire and deserve.