Letter to the Editor: From soldier to civilian in one week

Dear editor,

Familiar slogans like “The Few, The Proud,” “Army Strong” and “Fight and Win” have been used to describe the greatness that is the U.S. military and its members. Yet many veterans are depicted as unstable, depressed and seemingly unfit to thrive as civilians.

Unfortunately, it’s a general consensus among veterans that “veterans services suck” and “they don’t care about us.” This attitude is a reflection of the inadequate assistance provided by the government during the critical transitional period from structured military life to lackadaisical civilian life.

In fairness, the U.S. military has a program dedicated to the civilian transitional period.  The Transition Assistance Program strives to provide service members and their significant others with information, training and tools to assist in the transition to civilian life.

TAP focuses on employment, education and entrepreneurship. And while these topics are important, they are compressed into a week of exhausting lectures and PowerPoint presentations. Arguably more essential topics, such as living expenses, time management, personal health and the Veterans Affairs healthcare system get little attention.

NaTasc’ha Nichols, a Georgia State military student advocate for the Military Outreach Center on the Dunwoody campus, understands the flaws in the system. Eight years ago, she completed her initial military contract with the U.S. Army and did not reenlist. Like most, Nichols was led to believe that after completing TAP, she would smoothly shift into civilian life.

It didn’t take long for her to realize that wasn’t the case. Within months, she was back in the military, this time in the Army Reserves.

“I got out, but it didn’t feel like the freedom I imagined. I just wasn’t as prepared as I thought,” Nichols said.

According to a study in the Annals of Epidemiology, veterans exhibit “significantly higher suicide risk compared with the [U.S.] general population.” Additionally, about 40,000 vets are homeless.

A change to the system is overdue. Extending the timeframe of TAP would provide service members with adequate time to transition. It can take up to one year to develop a civilian into a soldier. The same dedication should be used to develop service members to civilians.

Equally important, service members must do their part. Many ex- and active-duty service members are hesitant to ask for or accept help, but it’s better to have someone hold their hand as they grow into a new life than to have someone extend their hand to donate coins when they’re begging on a street corner.

Most veterans are proud of the values and ethics instilled by the military. Yet for all they sacrificed, recently separated veterans often find themselves struggling to find their place in society.

Today, Georgia State is home to over 3,500 self-identified veterans. It’s unfortunate that the Military Outreach Centers are playing catch-up to meet these heroes’ needs while the outdated methods of TAP struggle to adapt to current challenges.

Like deployed soldiers overseas, soon-to-be-civilians should be equipped with the necessary information and tools to survive in this new environment.

Alex Torres

Homeland Security and Emergency Management, A.S.