The men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are among America’s youngest veterans – and many of them face serious challenges that set them apart from those who fought in previous wars.
As a result, it is often difficult to understand the physical, mental, and emotional toll of their combat experience. If you or someone you love is having trouble with the transition into civilian life, however, it’s important to know that help is available.
Taking advantage of the benefits and services available through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can be one way for Iraq and Afghanistan vets to achieve a healthier and more functional quality of life.
Statistics show that a higher proportion of reservists, National Guard, and female servicemembers returned from Afghanistan and Iraq with injuries or illnesses caused by their experience in combat. Furthermore, such trauma often presents itself in different ways than that of veterans who fought in prior conflicts.
Fortunately, the VA has conducted significant research aimed at identifying ways to effectively address these challenges. Since the experiences and needs of each veteran are unique, visiting a Vet Center can provide specific assistance. Advocates are available at locations nationwide to offer personalized advice as well as referrals for counseling or treatment.
In a more general sense, veterans experiencing any of the following issues or concerns can likely benefit from available VA benefits.
Physical Injury or Illness
Although free healthcare and medical treatment is available for combat-related conditions after being released from military service, many veterans might not realize the extent of that assistance.
Gulf War Illness
Veterans who fought in Afghanistan might be eligible for compensation and disability benefits related to an illness contracted as a result of their service in the region. To qualify, an individual should be able to demonstrate that the issue began while he or she was an active-duty servicemember starting on or after Sept. 19, 2001. There are some other factors that can determine eligibility, but the VA offers assistance to those who need help filing a claim.
Polytrauma Clinical Triad
The VA has developed a comprehensive approach to rehabilitation for pain, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder, which are collectively known as the polytrauma clinical triad. With programs available at 115 medical facilities across the United States, veterans suffering from any or all of these serious conditions can find treatment options aimed at improving or restoring as much function as possible. Without proper care, certain conditions – notably PTSD – can increase the risk of suicide or self-harm among veterans.
The VA’s Office of Public Health provides assistance to veterans exposed to potentially hazardous chemicals during their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Related illnesses are particularly common in connection to burn pits used to dispose of waste at locations in both countries. Exposure to such toxins can result in injuries to the respiratory or cardiovascular systems as well as skin, eyes, internal organs, and the gastrointestinal tract. Research shows that veterans who engaged in ground combat in either Iraq or Afghanistan experienced an elevated risk of breathing problems or a persistent cough.
After separating from active-duty service, veterans frequently have difficulty transitioning into civilian life. The VA currently offers several programs that can help bridge the gap between these two worlds.
The stress of combat can cause many injuries that are not necessarily visible to others. These issues often include depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, addiction, or sexual dysfunction. There are treatment options available through the VA that are tailored to meet the needs of these and other mental or emotional problems linked to service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The key to a smoother transition for many veterans involves finding a fulfilling job, though achieving this goal often means proper training or education. Again, the VA can provide help in the form of funding for college tuition or other approved education courses. Similar benefits might also be available for members of a veteran’s immediate family. Counseling services are available through the VA to help veterans determine which career path to choose.
Finding a safe place to call home is another challenge that many veterans face upon leaving the military. A VA-backed loan might be available to those who qualify, thus providing a path toward home ownership and the independence necessary to successfully complete their transition.
Veterans who were eligible for Servicemembers Group Life Insurance may also qualify for similar coverage after separating from the military. It’s important to apply shortly after leaving the service – typically within 120 days – to avoid a lapse in coverage.