Many returning veterans are showing high rates
of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol
use, depression, physical health problems and
difficulties with anger as a result of their
experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan; however,
it is important to realize that coming home
from Iraq and how well they are received by
family and the community can also be a major
source of stress for veterans, putting them
at risk for additional psychological problems.
A number of studies have looked at the connection
between a soldier's homecoming reception and
their level of stress. Although most of these
studies have been conducted among Vietnam veterans,
it is especially important to look at the effect
of homecoming with those who received a negative
reception upon coming home from Vietnam.
These studies have found that Vietnam veterans
with PTSD are more likely to indicate that they
received a poor homecoming reception than those
without PTSD. In addition, a negative homecoming
reception has been linked to the severity of
a veteran's PTSD, even when taking into account
the effect of combat exposure, the experience
of childhood traumatic events and other life
stress. Similar findings have also been obtained
among veterans of the Somalia peacekeeping mission.
A negative homecoming reception may prevent
veterans from talking about their experiences
or expressing their feelings about what happened
while deployed. This avoidance may contribute
to the development of PTSD symptoms.
A poor homecoming reception may also lead to
veterans isolating themselves from others. They
may feel as though they do not have access to
adequate social support, which can also lead
to the worsening or development of PTSD symptoms.
What Can Be Done
It may be difficult for a soldier to adapt
to being home. They may also have a hard time
adjusting to their old roles in the family.
They may feel guilty about missing family events.
Their priorities and goals may have also changed.
This may be due to experiences they had while
in Iraq or simply because a soldier must act
differently while in a war zone as compared
to when they are at home, taking the body some
time to adjust.
Likewise, it may be difficult for a family
to adjust to a soldier's homecoming. Because
a soldier may not be able to immediately return
to how they once were before they left for Iraq,
family members may notice that their loved one
acts differently. Their loved one may be closed
off or on edge and tense. All of this can be
a source of stress for family members.
Fortunately, there are some things that can
be done to help ease the stress of coming home.
The National Center for PTSD provides some tips
on how to improve reunion experiences. For example,
it is important for soldiers to be willing to
make adjustments and to be supportive of how
the family has coped while they were gone. It
is also important for soldiers to seek out any
help they need if they are experiencing symptoms
of PTSD, depression or substance use.
Similarly, families should remember to frequently
remind soldiers that they are still part of
the family and needed. Family members should
also try to be patient and remember that it
may take time for their loved one to adjust.
If you are expecting the return of a loved from
the Iraq War, check out additional tips from
the National Center for PTSD for creating a
positive homecoming reception. A positive homecoming
reception can foster a sense of support10 that
can protect veterans and their families from
Bolton, E.E., Litz, B.T., Glenn, D.M., Orsillo,
S., & Roemer, L. (2002). The impact of homecoming
reception on the adaptation of peacekeepers
following deployment. Military Psychology, 14,241-251.
Butler, R.W., Foy, D.W., Snodgrass, L., &
Hurwicz, M.L. (1988). Combat-related posttraumatic
stress disorder in a nonpsychiatric population.
Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 2, 111-120.
Fontana, A., & Rosenheck, R. (1994). Posttraumatic
stress disorder among Vietnam theater veterans:
A causal model of etiology in a community sample.
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 182,
Johnson, D.R., Lubin, H., Rosenheck, R., Fontana,
A., Southwick, S., & Charney, D. (1997).
The impact of homecoming reception on the development
of posttraumatic stress disorder: The West Haven
Homecoming Stress Scale (WHHSS). Journal of
Traumatic Stress, 10, 259-277.
The National Center for PTSD (2008): http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/ncmain/ncdocs/fact_shts/homecoming.html.
Retrieved on September 24, 2008.
Wilson, J.P., & Krauss, G.E. (1985). Predicting
posttraumatic stress disorder among Vietnam
veterans. In W.E. Kelly (Ed.), Post-traumatic
stress disorder and the war veteran patient
(pp. 102-147). New York: Brunner/Mazel.