Society 19 September 2016 9 348
The USA’s military conflicts have produced millions of veterans. Many have a tough time reintegrating into society: vets account for around 10% of America’s homeless population. Physical disabilities are common, while many more suffer from mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is widespread among former servicemen and the suicide rate is very high.
As the US military draft ended in 1973, many of the veterans suffering today as a result of their service joined up voluntarily. They say their intention was to serve their country and its people. Now, however, many of them feel they have been misled. Their goal could have been achieved without taking part in military actions on foreign soil.
As veterans leave the Army, they often find it very hard to return to everyday civilian life. Their health problems start to take a toll on them and their family. Going to the US Department of Veteran Affairs for help doesn’t work for many, as they believe the organisation relies too heavily on medication and offers insufficient psychological support.
In this situation many try to cope on their own, resorting to “self-medication”. This can create a vicious circle that puts their lives at risk. An NGO called Not Forgotten Outreach in the town of Taos, New Mexico, aims to change that. Founded by a veteran and a military widow, Kym Sanchez, this organisation offers a sanctuary for veterans and their families. Here, they reconnect with nature and learn to give back to the community. The work veterans do on the farm helps them to get off medication, rediscover their value to society and make peace with their past.