This year, veterans and their families have faced added stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has isolated friends and families, disrupted employment situations, and created new mental and behavioral health challenges.
This past spring, nearly a third of respondents to the COVID-19 Military Support Initiative Pain Points Poll, which tracked how military families were affected by the pandemic over the spring, were unable to complete the necessary steps to transition out of service due to office closures as a result of the virus. This adds to the more than 50 percent of veteran respondents who, even before the pandemic, reported they were not well prepared for their transition or found the entire process difficult, according to last year’s annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey.
Without proper support networks, whether provided by installations or made up of community members to talk to or to ask for a favor, veterans and their families are left to handle these transitions on their own. Preparation and transition become increasingly difficult as the civilian communities veterans are rejoining often do not understand the military family lifestyle.
This gap, where civilians may not understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families, can also prevent transitioning families from finding a sense of belonging and cause social isolation. What’s more, the process of transitioning has been found to hit female veterans harder and may have long-term impacts on social isolation, financial stability, and navigation of community resources.
Easing the transition
As we endure the hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must understand that veterans have faced issues like isolation, economic stress, and family stability for years. We, their civilian leaders and neighbors, can play a significant role in easing the transition process by offering support, information, tools, and appreciation for the challenges they face — and simply offer a helping hand. Increasing local communities’ understanding and appreciation for the service and sacrifices they’ve made can help military and veteran families feel a greater sense of belonging and improve their way of life.
Everyone has a role to play. Local leaders can assess their communities’ capacity to best support military-connected populations by proactively seeking out engagement opportunities for local residents. Community organizations can also incorporate greater military family lifestyle cultural competence practices into their programming and engagement strategies. Employers can do a better job of actively demonstrating an understanding of military life when recruiting and retaining military-connected employees.
For all our veterans do for our country, helping them adjust to their new civilian lives is the absolute least our communities can do for them. It’s a start.