A Post-9/11 Army veteran’s difficult transition to normalcy

The year 2010 marked a new beginning for John Byrne, a U.S. Army veteran. He spent three years combating war in Afghanistan, having to return home to conquer another mission: transitioning.

“I left the army because not only did I want to turn the page and start a new chapter in life, I was a little banged up,” John said. “I was suffering from a little bit of anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I lost some hearing in my left ear.”

John’s physical and mental war wounds contributed to his tough transition to civilian life. Through support and determination, John now attends counseling at the Northport Veterans Affairs (VA) for his PTSD, works as a stage hand for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, is a student at Hofstra University and a father to his infant son.

Like John, most post-9/11 veterans face multiple challenges while adjusting. Prudential Financial, Inc.’s, an American insurance company, Veterans’ Employment Challenges poll of nearly 2,500 veterans in 2012, reveals that finding a job was their hardest battle.

Chart: Briana Smith

Although the veterans’ unemployment rate has decreased over the past few years, it remains similar to the national unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Government’s labor statistics agency.

Chart: Briana Smith

War-related illnesses such as PTSD and lack of preparation negatively affect the veterans’ transition and efforts to obtain a job, but multiple resources are available to assist them, such as the Northport VA.

“Some of the most effective ways of treating an illness like PTSD is usually through a combination of medicine and talk therapy,” Ann Vasquez-Kosta said, the Northport VA mental health coordinator. “I like to encourage veterans to seek treatment as early as possible before they run into interpersonal difficulties or they have problems at work.”

Chart: Briana Smith

John’s weekly PTSD treatment helps him with transitioning. However, his wife said his personal incentives keep him on track.

“There are days when he is in these moments of frustration and feeling the effects still of what happened over seas in Afghanistan and he doesn’t want to do anything,” Hilary Byrne said. “He motivates himself. Now that we have a son, there’s a lot of motivation from that to be a good example. “

John advises his fellow veterans to take care of themselves and find a support system. He also said it’s important to stay positive.

“There is a bigger picture,” John said. “It’s my wife, my son, my family and achieving a little more of the American dream.”