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May 21. 2014 6:41PM

Veterans Commentary: Returning to civilian life is especially complex for parents

WHEN veterans return home from service, they come back confident that their communities will be here to embrace them and help pave the way to reestablishing themselves and their families in the civilian world.

If only it were that predictable. In reality, many returning veterans find themselves facing one road block after another.

Successful acclimation is dependent on a clear path to landing a job, establishing a home and building a solid base. But all too often, our vets come home with physical and mental handicaps, lack of translatable job skills and issues that lead them into a downward spiral.

In many instances, these compounding factors often lead to depression and self-medication, which can then result in alcohol and substance abuse. Societal support for returning vets and their families continues to be insufficient, forcing some into substandard living conditions and even homelessness.

It is tragic enough for a single male or female veteran to suffer from homelessness, but when one is responsible for a spouse and children, the situation is especially grave.

For veterans who are married and/or a parent, the human, social, and economic costs of homelessness is felt on many levels. The experience of homelessness and the associated stress that results can negatively affect the physical and psychological health and well-being not only of the veteran, but also of the family members.

Because of their exposure to an unnatural and unsafe environment, the homeless have higher exposure to stress and illness, and therefore generally are less healthy. Their children, who have different and often separate needs from their parents, may experience more complications in school and in social relationships.

In recent years, New Hampshire has experienced the highest rate of military deployment among Reservists and National Guard members in state history, with more than 1,300 servicemen and women sent to the Middle East.

With more veterans returning home from military conflicts, incidents of physical disabilities and traumatic brain injuries have increased, as have the levels of alcohol and substance abuse. And while men and women face similar challenges when reentering civilian life, women dealing with military sexual trauma and related physical and mental health conditions face a whole other set of issues.

But male or female, married or single, all parents share concerns about managing responsibilities and keeping their lives, as well as those of their children, as “normal” as possible.

Imagine trying to do what is needed to regain your independence after serving your country — tasks such as seeking employment and tending to medical conditions — while having to provide for your family, keeping shelter overhead and food on the table. It can be an endless push against the tide.

Countless studies have shown that keeping a family together in a safe, supportive environment is what works, helping veterans get back on their feet and achieve success and sustainability.

New Hampshire-based Harbor Homes Inc., a member of the Partnership for Successful Living, offers a unique combination of housing and supportive services to homeless male and female veterans and their families through their Veterans FIRST programs, which allows family members to stay together in their own apartment.

These holistic practices assist veterans and their families in overcoming homelessness and the complex issues that lead to it. Through these programs, homeless and at-risk veterans and their families are provided with transitional and permanent housing, employment and training services, case management, health care and financial assistance at the four housing facilities — in Manchester, Nashua and Claremont.

While residing in transitional housing, veterans must remain sober, pursue employment, further their education or volunteer within the community. Harbor Homes lays the foundation to rebuild.

To learn more about Harbor Homes and Veterans FIRST, visit www.harborhomes.org or call 882-3616.

Mary Tamposi is director of development for Harbor Homes.


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