Loss of Purpose

In addressing veteran suicide it is important to realize that loss of purpose is among the hardest challenges facing veterans after separation from active duty. I agree with this sentiment:

It isn’t the trauma of combat making veterans suicidal. It’s achieving the pinnacle of purpose—then returning to no discernible purpose at all.


While I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s main premise that all men are driven by an underlying need to protect, I do feel that veterans are more prone to this drive. In addition, the author fails to mention female veterans, nor to parse out suicide rates by sex.

These criticisms aside, it is crucial, regardless of sex, to address loss of purpose that veterans experience post separation. My personal experiences are instructive.

As the father of Ender stated  “I’m saying that when your child goes off to war, you will never get him back.  Not as he was, not the same boy.  Changed, if he comes back at all.”  (Card, 2008, p. 3)  The change is profound for any combat veteran at any point of time and place.  What is different for the warrior today is the lack of a ritual cleansing upon his return from combat.  Spiritually and psychologically, he is left in the wilderness to find his own way back from his encounter with the Shadow Warrior. 

It isn’t just combat or deployed veterans that experience the jarring effects of mission loss. However, it’s useful to explore my experiences of being a reservist called to active duty, deployed to a combat zone, then discharged to reserve status.

I was activated twice: once for Desert Storm and once for Iraq. Both times I experienced the same jarring reentry. In Desert Storm we spent three days at Camp Lejeune doing paperwork and listening to numbing lectures on VA benefits we now qualified for. Then a plane whisked us to Miami. We were then placed on terminal leave right on the tarmac and sent home. No unit speeches, nothing until our next reserve weekend, which had no further mention or rituals.

The second time from Iraq wasn’t much different. From Balad we flew to al Udeid in Qatar where we spent a whopping three days decompressing. Then we boarded series of flights back to San Diego and again placed on leave at the airport. This time I had to report back to home base active duty for a few months, but, again no rituals to reintegrate back. We did have a unit picnic at end when the unit was fully back and discharged from active duty.

Can you imagine the effects on psyche that occurs in such an abrupt manner? It’s beyond jarring, it’s surreal. And the loss of purpose is very real.


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