Survey reveals post-war life of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans

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  • Author: Carlos Alberto Gómez Grajales
  • Date: 04 April 2014
  • Copyright: Image appears courtesy of iStock Photo

In 2009, the Academy-Award Winner for Best Motion Picture was Kathryn Bigelow's 'The Hurt Locker', a powerful film that depicted the intense life of American soldiers fighting in the middle east. What I particularly recall from the film, besides the tense scenes driven by powerful performances and fine editing, is the ending of the film. That part in which, without getting into spoilers, you get to see the life of one of the soldiers post war. You get to see what it is like to live after surviving the war.

Only just yesterday it was reported that an Iraq veteran soldier, reportedly suffering from mental health issues, shot dead three colleagues and wounded 16 others at Fort Hood in Texas before turning the gun on himself. According to BBC News, the soldier was being assessed to see whether he had post-traumatic depression, and was 'being treated for depression and anxiety.'

Just a few days ago, The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation¹ conducted a nationwide statistical survey in the United States. Their target population was the 2.6 million Americans dispatched to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The aim of the study was to meet the veterans, to understand their challenges and conflicts: to understand the way in which their life has changed after military duty. By investing in statistical methods of inference, the study produced some quiet interesting numbers that describe the real situation which veterans face when they finally return home.

thumbnail image: Survey reveals post-war life of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans

They feel out of place. Close to 70% of the veterans feel that the average American citizen does not understand their experience². More revealing perhaps is that 55% of veterans mentioned that they often or very often feel disconnected from their new civilian life. Some former soldiers reported they were afraid to use certain highways that reminded them of Baghdad’s roads; some claimed to panic at the sight of trash on the street because that is what Iraqi guerrillas employed to conceal explosives.

Adjusting for a post war life has not been easy for most. As one person in the study explained, “I left the war zone, but the war zone never left me”. 51% of the interviewees claim the government is not doing enough to help veterans transition back to civilian life and around the same rate say that their own transition to civilian life was either somewhat or very difficult. Most of the complaints, expressed by slightly more than 25% of the respondents, relate to employment issues. Almost a quarter of current and former enlisted troops think the skills they have acquired in the military have no use in civilian employment.

For more than 1.1 million veterans, serving in the wars has left them in worse physical health, according to the poll. One in three veterans surveyed said the government has determined they have a service-connected disability. Some indicators included in the survey seem to estimate the rate of post-traumatic stress to be higher than 40%, though there was not a fully detailed battery of questions designed for that purpose.

Other interesting results reveal the demography of U.S. veterans. Thirty-five percent are non-white, more than one in 10 are women and 25% are now 40 years or older. Half of them come from the southern parts of the country, two-thirds lack a college degree and almost 60% live in a non-urban area. It is also noteworthy that those who serve have strong relationships with the army through family and friends. About 40% of the interviewees have fathers who were in the military and half have at least one grandparent who was. Almost 40% say most of their friends have served in the military.

“We’ve asked [soldiers] to do a lot more, in a smaller serving force, in some of the longest wars in our history,” said Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the branch of government that deals with helping vets readjust to their former lives. “There’s more work to be done in terms of research and understanding of what the full impact is going to be.” Shinseki's comments outline the importance of this recently published survey: you can't solve a problem you don't understand. Improving the lives of over 2 million veterans is a serious affair that will require further research and deeper statistical insights. After all, it must be hard to return home after taking part in wars that only 35% of veterans believed were worth fighting.

 

References

(1) After the Wars - Post-Kaiser survey of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans – The Washington Post. 30th March, 2014.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2014/03/30/National-Politics/Polling/release_305.xml

(2) A Legacy of Pride and Pain - The Washington Post. 29th March, 2014 - http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/03/29/a-legacy-of-pride-and-pain/?hpid=z1

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