The Silent Battle: Grief and Loss Among VeteransNov 12, 2023
Yesterday, we celebrated Veterans Day, a time for our nation to honor the service and sacrifices of the men and women who have served in the armed forces. While we celebrate their bravery and dedication to protecting our country's freedoms, it's also important to acknowledge the grief and loss that many veterans experience as a result of their military service.
For veterans, grief can take many forms:
Grief Over Fallen Comrades
For those who served in combat, the grief over losing fellow service members is almost unimaginable. The grief isn't limited to a single loss; it's a collection of losses compressed into months or years of service. Veterans grieve for the comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice right beside them. They grieve the loss of friendships that bond those who serve together.
Grief Over Lost Innocence
Many veterans also experience grief over the loss of who they were before going to battle. War inevitably changes every soldier, taking lives and witnessing violence hardens even the most idealistic young person. Veterans grieve for that younger, more innocent self before experiencing the unforgiving realities of war. It's a loss of identity, a piece of themselves left on the battlefield.
Because death in war is often so random, many veterans struggle with guilt over surviving when others did not. They may wonder: Why was I so lucky when others weren't? Should I have done more to save my fallen comrades? This guilt compounds their grief.
Loss of Purpose
Leaving the military also brings a strong sense of grief over loss of one’s sense of purpose– that united team mentality. In the service, their mission was clear. As veterans, they often grapple with the void of an undefined purpose, even if they take pride in knowing their service protected the nation.
Deployments take a toll on relationships with loved ones back home. Months or years apart can alter relationship dynamics significantly. Spouses grieve for the person who left and often struggle with the changes upon their return. Children may feel distant from a parent who missed important milestones.
Veterans who sustained injuries or trauma can struggle to find a clear career pathway after service. Goals and priorities change or get put on hold. Figuring out a new sense of purpose adds to the grief and loss they already feel.
As we reflect on Veterans Day, it's important to remember that we're not just celebrating heroes in uniform: We're acknowledging the pain and challenges they often carry. Their grief is a part of their experience, and we simply can’t pretend it’s not there. It's time we stop exclusively praising veterans’ strength and resilience, and open up more spaces for them to process their feelings.
For veterans facing grief and loss, Here are some resources available to help:
- Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) provides peer-based emotional support and grief resources for those affected by a military death.
- Give An Hour connects veterans and their families with free mental health services.
- The VA and non-profits like the Wounded Warrior Project offer grief counseling and veteran peer groups.
- Military OneSource: Offers immediate help 24/7, a free service by the Department of Defense for service members and their families, providing support for concerns like relationships, stress, and grief. Services are available 24/7 by phone and online.
If you know of any resources or organizations that have made a difference for veterans, we encourage you to head over to our Instagram and share them in the comments of our most recent post.
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