Coming Home from the Iraq: The Relationship between a Veteran's Homecoming and Stress
by Matthew Tull, Ph.D.
www.ptsd.about.com


 

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.

Homecoming Reception and Stress

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 undue stress.

Sources:

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, 677-684.

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.