Reintegrating From War - Who Needs It More, Veterans or Civilians?

ByBill McMillan

The Welcome Home Project was created in 2007 in response to our sense of frustration and confusion over the lack of contact that we, as civilians, were able to have with returning veterans and their families. I believe that this separation is a major factor in the problems experienced by returning veterans and their families, and that our society as a whole is deeply and negatively affected by this separation as well.

Due to the controversial and bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American people have been systematically buffered from the reality that has been coming home with veterans. We were once told that not supporting the war meant not supporting the troops and the result was an explosion of yellow ribbons, parades, and feel good stories that were often fabricated, and the promise that the troops would be better taken care of than their Vietnam Vets predecessors some 40 years ago.

It has became obvious that the issues of Post Traumatic Stress, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, homelessness, and the burden on family members, to name a few, are much greater than what has been reported. Further, the treatment offered through the government’s Veterans Affairs (VA) divison is at times totally inadequate. Walter Reed hospital was a glaring example of the lack of preparation in place for the injured, and the stories of lengthy delays in service and denial of treatment for “previous conditions” like personality disorders have only amplified the feeling that something fundamental is wrong.

The VA obviously is not doing enough, but this is not a VA problem. In fact, focusing on the inadequacies of the VA exacerbates the real problem by making it an issue solely of government failure, and we civilians don’t have to take any responsibility. The truth is that this is a community health problem that needs to be fixed by a change in our whole cultural mindset. This is not happening to "them." It is all of America’s problem and we are all responsible for fixing it.

It could be said that the whole culture now reflects the PTSD symptoms of returning vets – isolation, widespread depression (and the meds to combat it), violence, rampant drug and alcohol issues, anger, fear, and a general paranoia that the “other side” is bent on destroying our country. This isn’t helping.

The Welcome Home Project has made the documentary film, The Welcome, in order to address what we feel is the healthiest response to the massive tragedy currently overwhelming the VA – providing a way for the civilian community to actually begin to step up and be a part of this, to make it personal by taking on at least some of the emotional burden now being carried in isolation by so many thousands of service members and their families. 

All of us, despite our political or social differences, can come together around veterans. But it will only really help them (and the rest of us) if we are willing to feel at least some of the human suffering they carry and if we let them actually see that we are willing to do it. The true gift coming home from these wars is the opportunity for this society to find its humanity again by joining with veterans on a truly personal level – and that means feeling some of their pain. In the end, it is civilians that need a reintegration, not just veterans.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons