In war, the sense of self has been converted to the sense of (bonded) selves—it is not individualized. The military (Especially combat experienced soldiers) experience, systematically breaks down a soldier’s individualism and autonomy. The cohesion, discipline, and order can instill the feeling of being owned by the institution. This experience is magnified by the dissociation and emotional withdrawal that warfare demands. In post-deployment, former soldiers must reacquaint with their civilian loved ones and peers, and most importantly, their former selves. The effort to be congruent with one’s identity and sense of self is often agonizing, because when individuals fail to achieve desired consistency, they experience emotional dissonance that grows as distress. This distress is what leads to the much deeper and dangerous issues Veterans can experience due to withdrawing from the community and isolating themselves, once they have returned from serving their country.
While massive numbers of service members return home with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injuries (TBI), only a small number of them seek mental health care due to the stigma surrounding such care. Separation from service and the need to adapt to new social norms has led to returning service members to experience great difficulties in their newly founded lives. Veterans find meaning in community, and their sense of identity is often discovered in their sharing of memories and stories with their fellow service members as well as with non-veteran members of the community. They find comfort in their sense of “self” and in knowing that they too have a place in their “New” community.
The importance of friendships, both military and civilian, is evident in today’s society as our Veterans share the terror, sadness, boredom, and tedium of deployment of active duty. By providing them an avenue to connect with their communities has large implications for transition and reintegration of service members back into civilian life. While military friendships may be important during post-deployment reintegration, a sense of community unity among veterans and civilian community is yet another fundamental aspect of mental and physical health.