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Returning vets face 'warring identities' distress
Date:3/6/2014

ote than many of them had commonalities to their stories, in particular the sense that their combat experience was something that few could understand and that they felt "alien" among family and friends.

Confounding the issue, the authors point out, is the fact that the current wars are much less visible than previous wars like Vietnam, where many Americans knew someone who served. Many of today's soldiers refer to themselves as the "less-than-one-percent."

"Within our culture, there's this dichotomy of the valorous hero on one side and the battered, hair-trigger vet on the other. And the true experience is often not at those extremes and leaves veterans feeling if not judged, misunderstood," Smith said.

Many of the soldiers Smith and True interviewed also spoke of combat as a time when they felt "safe," even more so than when returning to the United States. The military, the authors point out, is a highly regimented institution where soldiers develop identities that give them a sense of order, obedience, and collectivism. When they return home, "behavior is suddenly voluntary and the lack of regimentation (and a larger sense of purpose) is a basis of distress," they write.

Smith said that many soldiers have difficulty creating an identity when they return to civilian life.

"You're making sense of who you are again and that's a process that we all do in life on a regular basis, but in this case you return and it's distressing trying to make sense of yourself after this combat experience. Within the total institution of the military, while there are threats and harms, it was also profoundly shaping who you were and your sense of self. That order and identity is no longer part of the everyday after exiting the service."

The veterans that Smith and True interviewed reported feeling like they were starting all over again when they returned home, while others felt distanced from their civilian relationships, afraid to
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Contact: Courtney Coelho
courtney_coelho@brown.edu
401-863-7287
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert

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