Hospice Volunteers of Hancock County

~ Volunteer Service Since 1980 ~

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Recognizing and Addressing Grief for Service members and Veterans

Until 1954, Veterans Day was known as “Armistice Day” in reference to the armistice that was signed on November 11, 1918, which concluded World War I. After World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, veterans advocates encouraged the change to be more inclusive of all veterans. Veterans Day honors all military members, whether they served in war-time or not, and it’s a celebration of living military members, along with those who are deceased.

One way we can honor veterans is to recognize that their service and sacrifices may have affected them in ways that are not always recognized and we can share resources that can help. Military service may affect the way veterans grieve in several ways:

Not recognizing emotions.

Soldiers are taught to handle anything that comes their way and to live in survival mode. They learn to disconnect from their emotions. This aids survival and military success. However, being stoic can cause problems after returning home. When faced with loss, grieving may be more difficult if you are not in touch with your emotions. If you don’t recognize your emotions, it is hard to cope with them. Also, holding stress in your body for a long time can lead to future health problems, such as chronic inflammation and a weakened immune system. As you grieve, you may need to learn skills opposite from those that were needed in the military, and possibly seek support and guidance for this.

Hidden sorrow

Hidden sorrow is grief that occurs when you don’t or can’t openly let others know about a death, mourn, or receive support from them. This can happen for many reasons.

Some are listed here.

  • Hidden sorrow can occur if others don’t recognize your connection to someone who died.
  • It can occur if a death involves what some people view as a stigma (for example, suicide or a criminal act),
  • when the circumstances of the death seem too horrible to face.
  • Hidden sorrow can also occur when someone faces many losses within a short time period. This doesn’t allow enough time to face each of them.

All of these situations can occur during military service. The grief of men and women who have served in combat has often been hidden. If you have hidden grief, you may not recognize right away that symptoms you may have are grief reactions. If others don’t know about your grief or if they don’t support you, you may have a harder time adjusting to the death.

Soul injury

After returning to civilian life, Veterans may feel pain over the deaths of civilians or enemy soldiers whose deaths they may have caused. Unmourned grief and unforgiven guilt are known as “soul injury.”

Resources to Help Grieving Veterans:

Soul Injury: Healing the Aftermath of War and Trauma ( http://www.soulinjury.org/veterans/ ) Offers information on Veterans’ unique needs at the end of life including moral injury, unmourned grief and unforgiven guilt, Healing the Trauma of Soul Injury . Contains a blog and other information for Veterans.

Vet Centers, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs ( http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/ ) Offers counseling to parents, spouses, siblings, and children of Servicemembers, Reservists, and National Guard who died on active duty. Offers readjustment-to-civilian-life counseling for combat Veterans and families.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) ( http://www.taps.org/ ) Provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, casework assistance, and connections to community based care for anyone who is grieving the death of a loved one in military service to America.

Adapted from a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) handout titled Whole Health: Information
for Veterans Coping with Grief Following a Death by Charlene Luchterhand, MSSW. To view the
full article, visit http://projects.hsl.wisc.edu/SERVICE/veteran-materials/Grief.pdf