While the heartwarming images of soldiers happily returning home into the loving arms of their families after years of service are ingrained in the American consciousness, the transition back to civilian life is often filled with unanticipated challenges.
The integration back into society – family life, the workplace, school – can be a bit of a bumpy road, especially for those who have been away for many years. It is even more difficult for those veterans who must contend with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as those suffering from depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide.
As part of an effort to assist in this transition, the Family Clinic at Southern has created a program called, “A Soldier’s Home Project.” It involves free therapy services to active duty soldiers, veterans and their families. A range of services are available, including those focusing on healthy living after and during deployment, relationship building, PTSD, parenting during and after deployment, mindful living, emotional regulation, anxiety, suicide prevention, and grief and loss. Family members may participate in services even if their soldier is deployed or cannot attend. Group and individual sessions are available.
“Our soldiers and veterans have given so much to their country, and this is one way in which we can help them,” said Julie Liefeld, clinic director. “And we also want to assist families who are affected, as well.”
Liefeld, who also serves as director of the SCSU Marriage and Family Therapy program, said that PTSD is not unusual among those who have served in the military, especially in combat. Certain triggers – which vary from person to person – can spark a PTSD incident. She said that in some individuals, it can be the skidding sound of wheels while driving, or a truck that jackknifes and mimics a gunshot sound. In others, it might be a certain smell, or even the sight of garbage on the road.
The limbic system, a part of the brain that regulates the fight-or-flight function, is responsible for an individual remembering certain sounds, sights or actions and translating them into danger signals, Liefeld explained.
She also said that while soldiers who are deployed are hypervigilant out of necessity, it takes time to adjust to the more laid back civilian lifestyle. “It’s not like flipping a switch in which people can just turn it off right away, especially for veterans who were deployed for a long period of time,” Liefeld said.
“We even see it in the classroom,” she said. “For example, some veterans want to make sure their backs are not to the door.”
She said that even if being hypervigilant does not create an immediate problem, it can lead to depression when sustained for too long.
Liefeld has worked on establishing this new program with Jack Mordente, SCSU’s coordinator of veterans’ and military affairs.
“Veterans are never going to forget their experience, but this program will help them come to terms with it,” said Mordente, a veteran who served during the Vietnam War era. “It will give them and/or their families another form of support.”
Mordente stressed that the lives of spouses and children of veterans also are affected by deployment and returning from combat. “The dynamics of family life change, so it’s an adjustment for them, too,” he said. “The Family Clinic here at Southern wants to reach out to the families, as well, and that’s very important.”
The Family Clinic is staffed by faculty in the SCSU Marriage and Family Therapy program, as well as many advanced graduate students.
SCSU also offers a variety of services for veterans, including a Drop-In Center, and the university Veterans’ Association.
(For further information about the “A Soldier’s Home Clinic” program, or to make an appointment, call the clinic at 203-392-6413.)