Veterans Day – The Missing Link

veteransAs many of you know I am a veteran. I retired from military service with five years and five months of Navy active duty time and then about 18 years of reserve time in the Oregon National Guard and the Navy reserve.

I worked for four years for the VA in psychiatry and have worked for many more years treating veterans for everything from physical illnesses to P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder) to T.B.I. (traumatic brain injury) to the gambit of major mental illness.

In the last few days I received a reminder for a “call for papers” for the annual conference of the National Association for Rural Mental Health (NARMH). I, like many of you, have watched Facebook and the television as Americans honor veterans. I see a great number of advertisements for donations to organizations that treat veterans. Most of their concerns relate to physical and emotional injuries. My proposed presentation to NARMH this year will be based on addressing what I believe to be a major missing link in addressing the concerns of reintegration of most veterans to the civilian world.

In the past I have used a presentation called “When Two Worlds Collide” which addresses the differences between the civilian and military cultures. Our YouTube channel (managing has a video of that one-hour presentation broken into six shorter segments. It is focused on examining the training that goes into the mental and emotional preparedness of veterans and why that training makes it difficult for many veterans to reenter the world of civilians. I have used the material from “When Two Worlds Collide” to teach college courses and also presented to a variety of conference audiences. The feedback has been entirely positive and many veterans have suggested to me that understanding their prior training made it much more likely that their future would be successful. Family members of veterans have expressed their gratitude and having a greater understanding of their veteran’s behavior and struggles.

However, I firmly believe that attempting behavior change without understanding an individual’s culture seriously hampers the progress of that individual. I contend that it is likely that failure to address the military culture is a major part of the problem we have leading to veteran suicides and the lack of academic and employment success.
This year my presentations will focus much more on this “missing link” in the context of treatment suggestions.

There are enormous errors in approaching treatment from the standpoint that all veterans are alike or that most veterans have similar traumatic experiences. Even if those assumptions were correct, ignoring the lessons learned and the coping mechanisms that the military instills would significantly hamper recovery efforts. I have not found the body of knowledge that indicates improvement in the treatment of veterans through the use of polypharmacy (medications). If polypharmacy worked, it would stand to reason that the more medications, and the higher dosages of medications, would correlate well with improved outcomes. The exact opposite is true.

The missing link that I have found is helping people to understand what they learned, why they respond the ways that they do, and then employing the principles of neuroplasticity to assist the brain to change. The proof of brain change is in improved relaxation, improved overall function and much greater reports of life satisfaction.

I would like to remind you of a saying that I use often, and have mentioned in previous blogs: “Life is really simple, not easy, just simple.” If you want your life to improve, change your behavior, simple. That is not easy, especially if you are not aware of the lessons you have learned and how those lessons impact your current choices.

Mood is a choice. In the military we are taught that anger is acceptable, vulgarity is commonplace, alcohol is a major component of life and cynicism and sarcasm are significant components of everyday communication. When those behaviors become habits, and they will, the ability to transition to a successful civilian existence is diminished.

A very simple and easy evaluation tool that everyone can use is to ask yourself this question: “How much fun am I to live with?” If you and the people around you don’t like the answer to that question, I would suggest that you begin to explore your current decisions and how they impact your mood.

The take-home message today is, while this particular blog is predominantly aimed at addressing veterans, practically every occupation has a culture and specific social behaviors. I have found similar patterns with people in blue-collar jobs such as law enforcement, corrections, firefighters, medical personnel, the railroad and sports. The culture of those jobs, and the behaviors that are learned within the cultures, can have very negative effects on day-to-day social interactions.

Remember, life is built on choices. Choose behaviors that will more likely lead to the improved satisfaction in your life as well as the lives of those around you. Behaviors are learned. Choose to be successful and happy.

One thought on “Veterans Day – The Missing Link”

  1. Thanks for this Russ! Got to spend Veteran’s Day at two elementary schools with my military son, who asked me to speak on my Korean War veteran dad…thank you for addressing the cultural aspect.

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