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After Combat, What Next?

What a soldier experiences after returning home from war - a short interview with Adjustment Counselor Jay White.










































(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


After Combat, What Next?

What a soldier experiences after returning home from war

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner: If you have a family member, maybe your daughter or son or maybe your husband or wife or even your father may be going off during a war and you're very worried about them, what do you do? What happens when they return? How can we make the return easier? I recently went to a conference, "How will we welcome them home?" That was the title of the conference - the unseen cost to American armed forces and their families. I heard a wonderful speaker. His name is Jay White. He's from the Department of Veteran Affairs and he is in Hartford and he is a readjustment counselor. He has been through the war. He's going back to it. Welcome, Jay. Welcome to the show.


Jay: Thank you for having me.


Dr. Kenner: Jay, it sounds like you've been through some very unusual experiences. You've been over to Baghdad, you served in the National Guard?


Jay: I did, in the Army Reserve.


Dr. Kenner: At the conference, I heard someone say the war starts when the veteran returns home. I'm wondering what's meant by that?


Jay: Well, I guess what it would be talking about is the readjustment period and that doesn't go just for the veteran. It goes for the family as well. It's a debate about who has it harder. Some people could say the veteran has it harder or the family has it harder, as far as trying to get readjusted. What you see a lot of times is, take for instance, a soldier and his wife is at home. This is a common thing, or fiancé or significant other. I think what happens is the person at home, first of all, while they're gone, your imagination can really take off on you. So you have no longer the help. Also, doubling that up you have the fear that your loved one is in danger.


Dr. Kenner: So if your husband goes overseas to fight a war, not only do you have the anxiety from that, but you've now got to play the role of the husband to take out the garbage, to take any of the responsibilities with the children or elderly parents that he would have helped you with?


Jay: Pretty much everything. And then from the veteran's point of view, when they're over there, there's nothing they can do. That's a detractor. That's a big problem. You feel bad for one and guilty and all that, and it's a concern because you know if something does go wrong, you're thinking about your wife - you heard she had a flat tire. What did she do? How did she fix it? You weren't there to help. You're handcuffed. You'll get phone calls and she's upset, saying, "You need to come home." You know you can't, so you're really caught. You mentioned that the war starts when you come home, and it does in a way because that's when they first see you again.


Dr. Kenner: What are their expectations?


Jay: Well, they're usually higher than what they should be. 


Dr. Kenner: Daddy or Mommy is coming right back and we'll just pick up right where we left off!


Jay: Exactly. What they do a lot of times, from what I have seen myself and from what I hear, it seems like people put you pause and expect you to pick up right where you left off. But you were gone for 12 or 15 months.


Dr. Kenner: And you were not on a vacation around the world. 


Jay: No, you weren't on vacation. And you've changed. You've got a lot of new experiences, some of them the most memorable of your life - good or bad - and you're expected to come back as you left. 


Dr. Kenner: And to pick up all of the responsibilities again.


Jay: Right. That doesn't stop just at home. At work too. People see you work and according to the laws, you have to have your job and all of that, but deep down, people think, "You haven't been here for a year," and you don't want to come home day one and just go right back to work. You want a month off or whatever and you're entitled to it a lot of times if you leave. So, people don't see you and think you're going to come back exactly as they last saw you and that's not the case.


Dr. Kenner: Just the shock value. Your expectations are so high. You come home and you get the realities of what's really going on, and people may not understand what you've been through and you may have seen people killed. You may have killed people. You may have seen best buddies maimed or what goes on during a war. And who do you process it with? Your young daughter or a fiancé? How do you deal with those types of issues?


Jay: Very rarely, from the veterans I've seen that come in here, do I hear that people are able to process it with somebody at home. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that they're somebody you know on a different spectrum. You care about them, and they don't understand, so it can be frustrating too. You don't want to open a can of worms.


Dr. Kenner: And you can traumatize them, the vicarious traumatization for them might be there if they feel, "Oh my God, he was hearing mortar fire. He was almost killed or he just nearly escaped death here." This is where you come in, because you run an outreach program. Can you talk a little bit about what you do as a readjustment counselor? I know during the conference, you were talking about taking veterans deep sea fishing or to the Boston Marathon or playing baseball, doing unusual activities that you wouldn't expect in therapy. Help explain what is available for veterans and how to get over the stigma too of going to seek help.


Jay: Sure. The basic things we do here at the veteran's center is the outreach, where we go and talk to units or individuals - soldiers, marines, any veteran coming back. You have that segment where we go out and spread the word about where to go and what benefits people have. But once they come here, the two main things are we do individual counseling and group counseling. Not everyone is prepared to go to group counseling if they don't wish. It's open to everybody, but those are the two main things. In the individual counseling, you also have sexual trauma counseling and bereavement counseling and it's open door for significant others.


Dr. Kenner: I was just going to ask that, can family members come too? Do you do any family therapy?


Jay: Yes. It's open to anybody who has been a combat veteran, their significant other. It doesn't have to be family. It can be a friend of theirs, they're allowed to come in. What you were talking about with the activities, we do have that because there is a stigma, like you mentioned, about coming in. Military is a proud group and you don't want to say that you need help and you probably think you don't need help at first. You can handle it. And then things start changing and whatnot. Not to be afraid, but where do you go to get help? One is the issue for the veterans to find out where to go, and two is I would guess you could say have the guts to go.


Dr. Kenner: That's where they need courage, the courage they need to fight a war, they need to be honest with themselves and if they're experiencing some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD or depression, if they find themselves numbing themselves emotionally or reacting to startling easily or getting angry very quickly, it's really important to reach out early. I want to thank you so much, Jay, for joining us. This is Jay White from the Department of Veteran Affairs at Hartford, the Hartford Veteran's Center, and he's a readjustment counselor. There is a lot of help out there. I worked at the Brockton Veterans Hospital, and we worked with families, we worked with the veterans, and really tried to help them put their lives back on track again. Help them make sense of the trauma they went through and deal with it more reasonably for themselves. Thank you for joining us again today Jay.


Jay: Thank you for having me.


Dr. Kenner: It's so interesting for me to hear that for some people, it's so hard to get help for psychological issues. You wouldn't expect, if you said, "Do you play the piano?" you wouldn't expect for a person to just know how to play a piano, but we expect people to just know how to think about very difficult, complex issues like the aftermath of a war, the aftermath of a hurricane, the aftermath of an affair.