DE-CRUIT is an interdisciplinary solution to the persistent and pervasive challenges faced by military veterans as they attempt to reintegrate into civilian life. This is a growing problem as returning veterans consistently encounter overwhelming obstacles in transitioning from military service back into their communities. There is a lack of integrative, responsive programs that sufficiently support veterans in meeting these obstacles. As a result, veterans disproportionately bear the burden of numerous social, psychological, and systemic problems, including homelessness, incarceration, and mental health conditions. Specifically, up to 20% of current returning veterans are estimated to meet diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans are 4-6 times more likely than the general population to be homeless, and significantly more likely to commit a violent crime, suffer from addiction, and receive harsher, longer prison sentences.
Additionally, recent reports of the alarming rates of suicides among veterans have shed light on the growing and far-reaching struggles faced by those returning from military service. Twenty-three veterans commit suicide each day. This rate has been steadily increasing over the last decade. Male veterans are 2-3 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, and female veterans are 4-6 times more likely. Veteran suicides claim lives from all branches and all ranges of military experience (both combat and peacetime) and from every area of military specialties (from supply clerks to infantrymen).
Compounding these problems is the absence of veteran-focused treatments and interventions that are necessary to adequately, effectively, and responsibly meet veterans’ diverse needs. Current treatment approaches focus on an assumed pathology within the individual “patient” rather than on sources of strength and resilience within veterans’ existing and potential communities. Over-reliance on pharmacological treatments has led to a broad range of adverse effects and medication dependency among veterans. Moreover, over 68% of veterans drop out of clinical treatment for PTSD, indicating a dire need for new, innovative approaches to address these problems.
A root cause underlying the array of challenges experienced by returning veterans is the systematic process of indoctrination experienced by all who enter military service. In order for the military to perform its primary function of training soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to kill when necessary, it must first recruit men and women at a psychologically malleable age and then indoctrinate these young men and women using a process that “wires” them for war by instilling camaraderie and dehumanizing the enemy. However, at the end of military service, there is no training for veterans to undo this indoctrination, and rejoin society. This transition is further complicated as these men and women exit military service and are severed from the structure of their military community, as well as from the bonds and relationships they have forged through years of functioning as part of a unit under life and death circumstances.
Adding to the effects of this loss of community are the general marginalization and alienation so commonly experienced by veterans. Veterans often isolate themselves from family members and friends in order to avoid encountering emotional triggers in their environment and also to protect their loved ones from the outbursts of anger, frustration and rage which can accompany trauma-related anxiety. This isolation can be exacerbated by dominant treatment models used in mainstream healthcare settings which emphasize symptom-reduction without considering broader contextual and relational factors in veterans’ lives or the fundamental need for connection and community. Moreover, many existing programs and treatments for veterans are short-term and time-limited; these programs typically lack follow-up and they often terminate abruptly, thereby reproducing the sense of loss and abandonment many veterans experience after leaving the military.
Existing services are also problematic in that they largely ignore the wide host of challenges experienced by veterans before they joined the military – challenges that were often the very factors that drove them into military life. For instance, it is estimated that at least 70% of veterans joined the military for economic reasons; those veterans came from low-income backgrounds and re-enter those same under-resourced communities at the end of military service. This leads to additional challenges in the reintegration process as the jobs and experiences necessary to maintain a viable, sustainable living are often out of reach for many veterans.
Another set of factors that drive young men and women into military life involves unresolved psychological needs that can be temporarily fulfilled through military service. These needs revolve mainly around the fundamental human drive for selfhood attained through connection and affiliation with others – the sense of being part of something larger than oneself. The military provides this sense; however, once that connection is no longer present, after leaving the military, the need persists and is unmet. Current treatments and programs do not adequately address this problem: Existing models of care are often only available to patients who have a diagnosis of PTSD, which restricts access for those who suffer from a host of psychological difficulties that do not readily fall into the realm of psychiatric illness. There is thus a need for programs that are open to all returning veterans irrespective of any particular profile of symptoms. Furthermore, there is a need for innovative approaches that foster individual and collective growth for veterans in ways that affirm and fulfill the desire for community and connection.
The failure to properly reintegrate our military veterans has been widely identified as a national crisis. This crisis manifests in a broad spectrum of costs to American society and communities. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are 23 million living veterans in the United States: 23 million men and women who are returning to their communities after being trained for, or serving in war, and being conditioned to respond to a threat with violence. Fifty percent of Vietnam combat veterans sampled in the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study reported engaging in violent acts three or more times in the preceding year. Additionally, there are 17,000 active-duty Army soldiers currently under arrest, in military prisons, or under investigation. At least 10% of all males in prison are veterans (roughly 250,000); at an average annual cost of over $47,000 per incarcerated person, this creates an annual cost of $11.75 billion dollars to imprison military veterans.
On a much broader level, communities nationwide are directly affected by the range of problems experienced by veterans on a daily basis. Veterans’ emotional and psychological suffering is intimately connected to the web of suffering experienced by spouses, children, extended family, and friends. This relational web is widespread: it is estimated that more than 41 percent of the population of the United States is directly connected to the fate of Veterans. In other words, 128.5 million Americans are immediately connected to veterans through relational ties. If we add to this the range of connections through work associates, acquaintances, schoolmates and neighbors of veterans, the numbers increase significantly, leaving only a small proportion of Americans who are not connected to veterans’ suffering.
The DE-CRUIT program addresses the complex, interconnected constellation of problems encountered by military veterans: the psychological challenges inherent in dealing with the aftermath of trauma; the practical challenges of striving to attain self-sufficiency; the relational challenges of re-connecting to spouses, family and friends; and the systemic challenges confronting all of us in our social and ethical obligation to provide for and support those returning from military services as members of our communities.