It is challenging for most veterans to speak honestly about difficulties they experience related to their combat service. When I returned home after a tough year in Afghanistan, I assumed it would be smooth sailing. As a young, ambitious person, I figured I would take some vacation and then jump right back into the swing of things.
When I actually landed, it was an out of body experience. Most of my unit had returned home at least three months before. I felt isolated, untethered and dazed. My plan was to return to Miami, where my reserve unit was stationed, for a day or two, turn in my last bit of equipment and then hit the road to join my boyfriend (now husband) in New York City. In reality, I slept on a mattress in my best friend’s kitchen for almost two weeks, overwhelmed as I tried to figure out what to do next.
Simple things like driving over 30 mph felt confusingly terrifying. I felt panicked in crowded places.
When I finally made it to my new home in NYC, I felt anxious instead of relieved. Simple things like driving over 30 mph felt confusingly terrifying. I felt panicked in crowded places. And the idea of having any responsibility placed on me felt untenable. I struggled in this state of limbo for almost six months. I climbed out of it because I had a patient and loving partner, and because I went to counseling.
I couldn’t explain what I was feeling at the time. Even today, I am shaking while I write this blog. I feel self-conscious that I may sound weak, or that my story might reflect on all female veterans. But it was largely because of this experience that I realized that things like access to education, healthcare, and employment can be so much more complicated than those opportunities simply being available.
In fact, many veterans face challenges in accessing and obtaining the opportunities and services they need to adjust back to civilian life. For veterans, in particular, homelessness can go far deeper than the ability to afford a home, and “access” can be profoundly affected by emotional and psychological barriers. It is estimated that over 8.6% of the total homeless population are veterans. Many of those homeless veterans are chronically homeless because they require care and support that goes beyond being placed in a home. Similarly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 3.75 million veterans are currently out of work and looking for jobs, but face many similar struggles readjusting after combat that I did, making the job search particularly difficult.
In honor of Veteran’s Day this week, our staff pulled together reading recommendations that highlight the current state of our nation’s veterans, and notable work to improve outcomes for those who have served.
Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Veterans - By Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN
My Recommendation: Brittany DeBarros, Collective Impact Associate
The experiences of female veterans often vary significantly from those of their male colleagues. When I returned from Afghanistan, I feared that every moment of weakness I had would reflect on my entire gender. While my male counterparts struggled with many of the same post-deployment experiences, they came home to a culture that idealizes the male soldier archetype. I came home from a year of combat experience to a nation debating whether women should be allowed to serve in “combat roles.”
The phenomenon of feeling isolated when others feel camaraderie, being constantly aware of your gender and/or color, and having more to prove are echoed for many women and people of color in civilian workplaces as well. This article offers a peek into the stories and experiences of women in the military, which are opportunities for insight into the dynamics that play out in society at large.
VA Opens First health Clinic for Transgender Veterans - By Mary Brophy Marcus, CBS News
Recommended by Tiffany Ferguson, Public Sector Innovation Associate
As our country continues to grapple with serious questions about structural inequity along the lines of race, gender and sexual orientation, the recent opening of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic for transgender veterans offers us a glimmer of hope about our government’s ability to take serious steps to meet the targeted healthcare needs of American veterans.
Starbucks' New Perk for Military Vets: Free Tuition for Kids - By Katie Lobosco, CNNMoney
Recommended by Ben Hecht, President and CEO
Starbucks already picks up the tab for its employees to go to college. But now the thousands of military veterans who work there are getting an added perk: Free tuition for their spouses and children.
There is so much more companies can do and Starbucks is trailblazing the way.
Mapping Where and How America’s Veterans Live - By Linda Poon, The Atlantic’s City Lab
Recommended by Jeff Raderstrong, Program Associate, The Integration Initiative and Collective Impact
New maps from the U.S. Census Bureau offer details about veterans’ lives and insights into opportunities for improvement.
2015’s Best & Worst Cities for Veterans - By Richie Bernardo, WalletHub
Recommended by Matthew Ahlert, Executive Assistant to the President and CEO
Many veterans returning from service struggle to receive adequate benefits such as health care, housing loans and education assistance. In an effort to raise awareness about the state of veterans in cities across the country, WalletHub conducted a study to find the most livable cities for former service members.
White House Announces In-State Tuition For U.S. Veterans, Families - By Megan Cassella, Reuters
Recommended by Brittany DeBarros, Collective Impact Associate
This Veteran’s Day, the White House announced three pieces of legislation that would save veterans and their families significant amounts of money.