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Challenges of Coming Home

November 13, 2014

The 2.6 million post-9/11 veterans face common challenges when returning home and adapting to civilian life.

“It was a lot different than I expected it to be. What I knew reality to be was turned upside down.”

That’s about as much as Jeremy Grisham wanted to say about his deployment in Iraq with the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, who were among the first invading U.S. forces.  Grisham was a 12-year Navy hospital corpsman, treating the wounded and dying -- Marines, civilians and enemy combatants alike.

He didn’t shoot a gun, but, as he says, “I was cleaning up everyone’s mess…,” adding, “It was very frustrating.  It was a bizarre experience.”

Grisham left the service and returned to civilian life in Washington State in 2005. The transition wasn’t easy.  Diagnosed with PTSD, he couldn’t use his special medical skills.   

“Even very routine interactions with patients were life and death situations. I was unable to look at blood; I would pass out and have strong emotional reactions to that sort of things. I just was not a good fit.”

Grisham in Iraq

Finding and keeping a job, any job, was rough. He didn’t know how to “sell” himself, suffered from a lack of confidence. If that wasn’t enough, there were problems with family and relationships. War had done something to him.  Grisham says “Because of my experiences in Iraq, I came home and actually learned to hate myself.”

Jeremy was experiencing some of the common challenges for veterans, especially those returning from Iraq & Afghanistan. 

High rates of PTSD, depression and substance abuse can complicate the transition to family life, relationships and parenting. According to the VA, as many as 30% of combat veterans of post 9/11 veterans suffer from PTSD.  Many have depression and wrestle with substance abuse.

Unemployment: Finding a job or career remains a problem for millions of veterans. Though the picture is improving, unemployment is still higher for veterans than the national average. Many don’t know how to translate the skills they’ve learned in the military to the civilian economy.  

Finances, Debt and Housing: Veterans carry more debt than the average American, perhaps because many enter the service and start families at a young age. Many are on the edge of bankruptcy. And veterans are twice as likely to become chronically homeless, though the overall rates are coming down.  The VA has made a commitment to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

Education: Many veterans find academic culture and going back to school overwhelming, and have a hard time relating to other students.  Only 25% of veterans 26 years of age and above have a bachelor’s degree.

Devastating Wounds: Modern warfare allows soldiers to survive injuries that would previously been lethal, but these wounds, including very common traumatic brain injuries, are life-altering and require extensive rehabilitation. There have been thousands of amputations.  The wearing of body armor has given rise to a newly recognized muscle degeneration syndrome.  And of course, there is PTSD.

An overloaded VA system: An underfunded and short-staffed VA healthcare system struggles to meets the needs of 2.6 million post-9/11 veterans, while responsible also for the care of an aging boomer and older veteran population. Any veteran finds the system frustratingly difficult to navigate.  The new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, has vowed to restructure the agency.        

Grisham back home in Seattle

Jeremy Grisham has found his way.  He now works for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs in an ecotherapy program, helping other veterans find connection and healing in the natural environment while they restore wild habitat. 

“We call it, claiming our indigenous soul—reclaiming who you are. We can vent our frustration and we can see a lot of positive changes taking effect.”

And he believes that rather than be just thanked for their service and identified solely as veterans, returning servicemen and women need to be looked at as part of the greater community. 

“Certainly, well you know if we make a promise or commitment to someone you expect to follow through.  We owe it to our community members to take care of each other when we get out.” 



Made possible in part by

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is a 25-year veteran of KCTS, producing a wide range of cultural and public affairs series, documentaries and arts programming.  His credits include PIE, Something in the Water  (PBS feature on Seattle’s indie music scene), the gala opening of Benaroya Hall, and documentaries on Asahel and Edward Curtis, Dan Sullivan and Doris Chase.  Seattle-born, Hegg is a graduate of Whitworth University and is also an accomplished violinist and avid cyclist.

More stories by Stephen Hegg

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