Voices of Veterans

Veterans have important information, ideas, and feelings to share with family members and friends to help them better understand and support them on their path to wellness.

Tip 1: My traumatic experiences may have changed how I view myself and the world around me – and that’s okay.

I am not weak or a failure, but I am struggling. As humans, we experience changes in our understanding of ourselves and our surroundings based on our lived experiences. My traumatic experiences are no exception. Elements of our relationship may be different, and we might have to find a new ‘normal’. Finding a new ‘normal’ is a common experience among Veterans and their family members and friends.

Tip 2: Be patient and understanding.

My experience of trauma and the symptoms that follow are overwhelming, scary, isolating, and exhausting. I may have to adjust to a new reality that involves mental and physical health difficulties. These changes are not easy and can take a long time to adjust to. Some changes in me, though manageable, will also be permanent.

Tip 3: Give me space when I need to be alone.

I may not always want to talk or be around others, even the people I love most. My perception of a safe environment for myself and my family members and friends are different now and I may be on edge. It can take some time to adjust to a comfortable mindset. Avoidance, or pulling away, can be a symptom of PTSD and other mental health difficulties. Please respect my wishes to be alone, and kindly remind me that you are here when I am ready to talk.

Tip 4: Allow me to share at my own pace.

It can be difficult for me to share my experiences and feelings with you, particularly my experiences with trauma. I may not talk about periods of my service, so please be patient with that. I may have been put in circumstances I regret and or am embarrassed about. It will not benefit you or me if I share those experiences. I may fear overwhelming you, just as I may not want to share everything with you, and that’s okay. It’s helpful to know that you are there to listen, whenever I am ready to talk.

Tip 5: Avoid telling me what to do or giving me unsolicited advice.

Although I know you want to help me, it can be patronizing to be told what to do. Please listen to me without judgment or trying to fix things. Due to the things that I have experienced but have not told you, I may need to do things in a different way that you may not understand.

Tip 6: Ask me how you can help.

Instead of telling me what to do, ask me if there is anything you can do to help. You can also offer practical support, such as doing my grocery shopping or joining me at an upcoming appointment.

Tip 7: Try not to take my symptoms of mental health difficulties personally.

If I am sad, upset, angry, or distant, this may have nothing to do with you or our relationship. I may be experiencing symptoms of  PTSD or other mental health conditions and difficulties. I do need your understanding.

Tip 8: Anticipate my anniversary dates.

If you are aware of a date that marks a difficult event from my military service, anticipate that I may experience disturbing feelings or thoughts on the anniversary.

Tip 9: Any difficulties I may be experiencing are not your fault.

Tip 10: I love and care about you.

Tip 11: I don’t want to scare you. I don’t want to make you anxious and uncomfortable. Don’t patronize me, but be honest if you are confused or scared.

References
  • Brewin, C. R., Garnett, R., & Andrews, B. (2011). Trauma, identity and mental health in UK military veterans. Psychological Medicine, 41(8), 1733.
  • Cramm, H., Norris, D., Schwartz, K., Tam-Seto, L., Williams, A., & Mahar, A. (2020). Impact of Canadian Armed Forces veterans’ mental health problems on the family during the military to civilian transition. Military Behavioral Health, 8(2), 148-158. https://doi.org/10.1080/21635781.2019.1644260
  • Freytes, I. M., LeLaurin, J. H., Zickmund, S. L., Resende, R. D., & Uphold, C. R. (2017). Exploring the post-deployment reintegration experiences of veterans with PTSD and their significant others American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 87(2), 149-156. doi:10.1037/ort0000211
  • Keeling, M. (2018). Stories of transition: US Veterans’ narratives of transition to civilian life and the important role of identity. Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health, 4(2), 28-36.
  • MacLean, M. B., Van Til, L., Thompson, J. M., Sweet, J., Poirier, A., Sudom, K., & Pedlar, D. J. (2014). Postmilitary adjustment to civilian life: Potential risks and protective factors. Physical therapy, 94(8), 1186-1195.
  • Marek, L. I., & Moore, L. E. (2015). Coming home: the experiences and implication of reintegration for military families. Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health, 1(2), 21-31.
  • McGaw, V. E., Reupert, A. E., & Maybery, D. (2020). Partners of Veterans With PTSD: Parenting and Family Experiences. Families in Society, 101(4), 456-468.
  • Morgan III, C. A., Hill, S., Fox, P., Kingham, P., & Southwick, S. M. (1999). Anniversary reactions in Gulf war veterans: A follow-up inquiry 6 years after the war. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(7), 1075-1079.
  • National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). (n.d.). Helping a family member who has PTSD. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/family/how_family_member.asp
  • National Center for PTSD. (n.d.). PTSD: Help for friends and family [infographic]. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/publications/print/NCPTSD-Family-Infographic.pdf
  • National Center for PTSD. (2019). Understanding PTSD: A guide for families. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/publications/print/understandingptsd_family_booklet.pdf
  • PsychArmor Institute. (n.d.). 15 things veterans want you to know. https://www.va.gov/HEALTHPARTNERSHIPS/docs/PsychArmor_15ThingsCourseNotes.pdf
  • Ray, S. L., & Heaslip, K. (2011). Canadian military transitioning to civilian life: A discussion paper. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 18(3), 198-204.
  • Smith, M., Robinson, L., & Segal, J. (n.d.). PTSD in military veterans. HelpGuide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/ptsd-in-military-veterans.htm
  • Support and Family Education Program. (2000). What we’d like our family members and friends to know about living with ptsd: Suggestions from veterans who were involved in combat in the Vietnam War https://www.ouhsc.edu/Safeprogram/HandOut-G.pdf
  • Worthen, M., Moos, R., & Ahern, J. (2012). Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ experiences living with their parents after separation from the military. Contemporary Family Therapy, 34(3), 362-375.