Study: Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans Feel Disconnected Upon Returning Home

The Day

January 31, 2009, New Britain, CT – Some of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are feeling disconnected from their loved ones, having trouble readjusting to work or school and failing to seek medical care for fear of being stigmatized, researchers from Central Connecticut State University found in a recently completed study.

Findings from the state’s first “needs-assessment study” of recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – commissioned so officials can understand this unique generation of veterans and better formulate state programs and policies – were released Friday at Central.

State officials said it was too early to say what specific changes could result from the study, but Linda Schwartz, the state’s veterans’ affairs commissioner, said the data will “help us think out of the box.”

“The war is not over and we don’t know when that will happen,” Schwartz said, “but this needs assessment can help drive some of the actions of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Marc Goldstein and Jim Malley, the principal investigators from Central’s Center for Public Policy and Social Research, began the study in January 2007 by meeting with service providers who work with veterans to get their perspectives on veterans’ needs.

One of their top concerns was that veterans’ medical needs were not being adequately addressed, particularly for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Veterans tend to not want to seek medical care because of the stigma associated with it. If there is one pattern we saw working with all the veterans it’s that they don’t want to be de-normalized. They want to come back and live a normal life,” said Malley, adding that veterans were worried about the confidentiality of their medical information and were unsure of how to navigate the VA system.

Researchers then met with small focus groups of veterans, who said they felt misunderstood and were more comfortable talking with fellow veterans than those who did not serve.

“There was a profound sense of being disconnected form one’s community,” Malley said.

The last phase of the study was a survey mailed to veterans, with 557 veterans completing it for a response rate of about 27 percent.

The surveys were mailed in two sets, with the second batch asking questions about Traumatic Brain Injury. Of the 285 people who responded to that version, nearly one in five would most likely test positive for TBI, Goldstein said.

And 120 of the veterans had symptoms that would “reach diagnosable levels for PTSD” Goldstein said.

These veterans also reported that their jobs could sometimes feel mundane after serving in combat and that school could be a challenge when their classmates had such different life experiences. Those in school were upset that they were told that they would get a free education for their service but then had to pay expensive school fees.

Researchers used this information to compile a profile of a veteran who could have trouble readjusting to civilian life – a person who is young, with less education and no close personal relationship, like a spouse, who served on active duty.

The study recommends starting a public awareness campaign about veterans’ services, developing an early identification and outreach system, creating more support organizations within veterans’ communities, addressing veterans’ concerns about educational costs and continuing a dialogue among service providers about these issues.

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