The Combat Veteran Paradox: An Infographic

In previous posts, I’ve talked about two different paradoxes that combat veterans experience. One that I’ve noticed, the violence of action paradox, discusses how veterans experience emotions that are protective in combat, but problematic while at home, and vice versa. Another is the paradox of the veteran story, in which veterans both want everyone to understand what they’ve been through, but don’t want to have to talk about it.

It was brought to my attention that these paradoxes, and many others, were identified in a 2015 article in the Journal of Traumatology, authored by Carl Castro, Sara Kintzle, and Anthony Hassan. The information contained in the article was so pertinent to a greater understanding of veteran mental health that the authors graciously allowed me to disseminate some of the information in the form of an infographic.

Enjoy!

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For some additional information about this topic, you may be interested in taking a look at this presentation by the lead author, Colonel (Retired) Carl Castro. In the short video below, he discusses some of these paradoxes in more detail.

Did you enjoy this post? Please comment below and share with your network in order to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health. You may be interested in a collection of 2016 Head Space and Timing posts that you can print and share. You can sign up for updates from Head Space and Timing and follow Duane, a combat veteran and mental health counselor, on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.

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7 thoughts on “The Combat Veteran Paradox: An Infographic

  1. I can only speak from my own experience. I have had one 12 month tour in Afghanistan that was truly a combat deployment with an average of 2-3 real firefights a month and many incidents I called “1 Mag’ers”, where the enemy would engage with a single RPG and some small arms fire – usually about one magazine or one machine gun belt of ammo- then run away. I don’t really count those as they were more harassment than actual combat. I was also a member of a small team, not the traditional squad/platoon/company, so maybe I saw things a little differently as well. So with that background, and fully understanding that there are no absolutes…

    This graphic is fairly accurate while incredibly vague. It’s not wrong, but it’s not really all that right either. From my own feelings as well as the 15 or so of my comrades who I think I understand, we really do not feel any of the example points in the various paradoxes so clearly and neatly. The vast majority of our mannerisms fall in that huge middle ground. Also, some of these are based on civil relationships which are for the most part very different from relationships with the guy (or girl) crouched down behind the HMMWV and returning fire. For example- one of the graphics is titled “The Intimacy Paradox”. Whether or not you are intimately close to someone (and what that means) depends on the situation. I was extremely close to some of my brothers (note- some, not all; we were still individuals, and not all individuals are the same, hence the term) while in a combat situation. We shared deeply personal details, showed a lot of emotions, and risked our lives for each other without thought. But, once home, I rarely see or speak with those with whom I was closest. I am much closer now with my wife than any of them. If we deploy again next week, we will fall right back into those roles because the situation will once again support it. I guess I’m saying that I don’t know of anyone from a similar background who did not enter into a close friendship in the civilian world because they lost a buddy in battle. The same goes for most of the other paradoxes as well- they are situation dependent. And as for the “Safety” paradox, most veterans of combat carried weapons and maintained a higher level of situational awareness even before they entered actual combat. Again, I don’t know of a single combat vet who drastically altered their practices of carrying a weapon or home security, etc. I am sure there are some examples out there, but in my case the only ones I’ve seen are in the articles and videos warning of such behavior, not in actual practice.

    This is just a reply, not a full article, so I’ll not address each of the listed paradoxes. Let me attempt to summarize by saying that while this graphic is not inaccurate when considering combat veterans as an amalgamous group, it is also not all that useful if you look at it as a tool to understand a particular individual.

    for what it’s worth,
    GT Lain

    1. Great points! The infographic, as presented, is not meant to be an inclusive all-or-nothing expression on the experiences of every veteran, but instead an overview of the points listed in the original article. The information there goes much more in depth of the nuances that veterans face. This, instead, is intended to start a conversation about what veterans experience, and more importantly, indicate that veterans who are experiencing these paradoxes are NOT experiencing a mental health disorder; they’re simply experiencing challenges in adjusting from one situation to another, and therefore could benefit from working with a mental health professional who is experienced in working with veterans. Thanks for your comments!

  2. Holy cr@p! I went down the infographic, and IT WAS RIGHT ON POINT!! Every single one of the 12 paradoxes rang true…I experience ALL of them! I will absolutely be sharing this all over the place – thank you!

    1. Glad it hit the mark, James. And much appreciation for sharing it with your network…hopefully it will be helpful to some, so that they can reach out and resolve some of these paradoxes without them becoming too overwhelming. Thanks!

  3. Wow… I don’t think I could’ve said it any better. This is good material for someone who may have a hard time talking to their loved ones, maybe their family doesn’t understand them and they can’t explain their feelings, or even an introspective for yourself.

    I have to say, this is the best display of information about combat veterans state of mind especially when trying to convey emotions or the “paradoxes” as listed, while no one list is going to cover everything, this is pretty decent explanation. Like another person replied, my experience was similar, 2-3 major 30+ minutes of firefights, occasionally H & R onsie, twosies. I was not married when I came home, I did get married about 2 years later. I didn’t consider suicide, that’s not me, however drinking, drugs risk taking, and personal ruin was/would be happening. I don’t know where I would be today, so I am truly thankful for an understanding wife. I was 42 when I got married, my original plan was to get rid of everything and move to Thailand, which I spent a lot of time in throughout the years, would have probably been my ruin! I still have my days, although 10 years on and some things are better, some the same. I guess the good thing is nothing has gotten worse, don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. The best thing is I met my wife and as much as I wish I could erase 2008 from my life, I think of the men I was with and while it can be a crappy club to be in at times, my dad who passed away while training up for Afghanistan was a WWII veteran, my only wish is he would still be alive to share experience with. It’s strange, 23 years in the military, I retired in 2010 and it seemed everyone was in combat, come home no one to talk to except there’s a lot of fakers, but I stay away from them or I’m not sure what I’ll do best to just stay away!

    1. Victor, thank you for your feedback, but more importantly your honesty with where you were and where you’ve come. The struggles we’ve had define us; while it may be desirable to erase 2008 from your life, you would not be you without that experience. That’s important to hold on to. Thanks again!

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