There are no two groups of Americans that get along quite and military veterans and the first-responder community. It makes sense on a broad level; they are both professions that hope to help others and make the world a better place
But this association goes much deeper than that! Civilians just do not understand the actual amount of paperwork and bureaucracy that happens in both.
They share the same culture
Part of what makes the military fun is the inter-service banter exchanged between veterans and other branches. First responders do the same playfully mocking of one another as well.
EMS will throw some stabs at firefighters, and firefighters will tell jokes at the police’s expense. Law enforcement officers and firefighters will happily mock one another all day long but treat each other as a family when times get tough. This is just one of many areas that these two cultures share. They also come up with the same wacky insults that veterans love.
They share the same vocabulary
Veterans say many little things that they do not realize are uncommon to the civilian world; however, first responders easily understand the vocabulary.
The phonetic alphabet is obvious, but it makes my veteran heart grow knowing that police also call each other blue falcons.
The most challenging times for both are often the memorial services.
They share the same bad days
Both groups experience bad days, which is a sad reality that is hard to explain to civilians.
You can be proud to share fantastic moments with your children and spouse, but helping the world will also show you things that will keep you up at night — this feeling cannot be felt unless experienced.
Firehouses have the same frat house feel in between calls that veteran barracks experience.
Peers share a strong bond of brotherhood.
It is no secret that veterans and first responders are close to one another.
They grow together through shared pain, ridicule, and brief moments of brevity until the “shit hits the fan” again. This level of camaraderie is respected and undeniable.
Many have served in both
The main reason why both communities can relate is that many veterans leave the service and make a living as first responders.
During moments in Basic Training, it is not uncommon to hear a soldier say they were a volunteer firefighter in college.
Trauma and mental health: five reasons why we should be paying attention.
1. PTSD does not just affect soldiers
PTSD is widely recognized as a hazard of military service, but it is also a risk with first responders – police, ambulance officers, firefighters, emergency personnel!
First responders experience accidents and natural disasters that often put their safety at risk to help others.
Like veterans, first responders see and experience situations that are outrageous and are hard to process.
This leads to a higher risk of acquiring mental health issues such as PTSD.
2. Similarities between veterans and first responders
The experiences of first responders and veterans (who both run towards disasters while everyone else runs away) are similar, both working in areas with an increased risk of PTSD.
Similarly, to those who work in the military characterized as being stoic with unending amounts of endurance, so too are first responders.
Unfortunately, as military and first responders see more incidents, the risk of acquiring PTSD increases over time. The same characteristics that empower them to do such a great job in caring and protecting us can get in the way of seeking help themselves.
This can ultimately lead to their symptoms becoming worse.
3. PTSD is not inevitable
A myth has developed that all first responders will get a mental health injury.
This is not the case. Many people get through their careers without acquiring an injury.
However, there is a higher risk. Research has discovered that the more critical incidents experienced, the greater the risk of acquiring a mental health injury.
The pure nature of the work that the first responder is exposed to must be taken seriously.
4. The growing role of first responders has made a difference
Over time, the great work done by first responder organizations has improved in their professionalism and efficiency.
The operational tempo of first responders has increased. Automated systems have improved rapid response times and get more responders to incidents, meaning increasing their level of exposure.
We also need to be aware of the role that downtime can play in maintaining good mental wellbeing, and when the demands on our first responders grow, giving them the need for rest should increase.
5. Help is available
Many people do not seek help due to various reasons; time, stigma, judgment, etc.
Recovery and improvement are possible! However, it is a long journey, and people will experience setbacks. There is a network of agencies everywhere that have experience working with first responders with PTSD.
Even if early setbacks are experienced, it is good to keep trying to find people trusted to work with.
Mental Health Awareness: Military and First Responders
First responders and military personnel are consistently exposed to traumatic events throughout their professions. They regularly make life and death decisions in a split-second, with razor-thin margins for error. This culture is at an increased risk of behavioral health conditions and long-term problems of traumatic stress.
Research shows that 30 percent of first responders develop mental health conditions during their time of service. The mental health concerns listed below also apply to first responders.
Mental Health Concerns
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events, as experienced in military combat, assaults, disasters, or sexual assault, can have long-lasting adverse effects such as trouble sleeping, anxiety, depression, anger, nightmares, jumpy, and alcohol and drug abuse. When these troubles do not go away, it could be PTSD. The rate of PTSD is 15 times higher than civilians.
Over the past twenty years, research show that PTSD development in first responders following work-related exposure to traumatic events. Data indicates that PTSD prevalence in EMT/paramedics ranges from 9% to 22%, and Firefighters range from 17% to 32%. This compares to approximately 7% to 12% of the regular adult populace in the United States who will develop PTSD in their lifetimes.
Depression. More than just experiencing sadness, depression does not mean you are weak or something that just goes away. Depression interferes with normal daily life functioning, which may require treatment. The rate of depression is five times higher than that of civilians.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). This injury usually results from a significant blow to the head. Symptoms can include headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, memory problems, mood changes, or swings.
In addition, anxiety is also a concern for which first responders and military service members are at risk.
Anxiety. Anxiety symptoms that usually last for more than six months generally qualify for a diagnosis of a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or phobia. Symptoms will vary depending on the condition. Still, they may include intense fears of specific places or things, intrusive obsessive thoughts, disrupted eating and sleeping patterns, and substance abuse, and more.
Exposure to the traumatic experiences of others, known as secondary trauma, is an inevitable challenge for first responders.
It is draining to cope with the effects of others’ traumas and have lasting adverse effects. Self-care, peer support, and counseling to help mitigate secondary trauma.
There is specific reason as to why people drink or use drugs. Various risk factors can make substance abuse more likely. When people turn to alcohol or drugs for self-medication, they are more likely to become dependent upon that substance.
Research on military conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that exposure to combat is correlated with increased alcohol-related problems. Thirty percent of service members are binge drinkers with one-third who engage in hazardous drinking behaviors or met the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Drugs are also an issue. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of narcotics prescribed by military doctors quadrupled!
First Responders who develop adverse mental health conditions may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with and mask their pain. The continued stigma surrounding mental health also makes first responders more resistant to treatment.
Alcohol is the most abused substance of first responders, especially with PTSD. This is due to alcohol and drinking being a socializing event. First responders who experience the traumatic events together will often drink together for stress relief and a way to bond over the trauma.
A recent study found that alcohol abuse and addiction rates increased the more prolonged the study participants worked as police officers. Rookies who join the force and report zero percent will experience an accumulation of job stress. After two years, Twenty-seven percent of rookies went on to develop an alcohol use disorder (AUD). After four years, that number increased to thirty-six percent. It also found that alcohol use is a deeply ingrained part of police force culture.
The U.S. Firefighters Association estimates ten percent of all firefighters abuse drugs. Twenty-nine percent of firefighters abuse alcohol, compared to seven percent of the general population abused alcohol.
Drug abuse appears to be much higher in paramedics and EMTs than in other emergency responder professions. This has not yet been determined as to the reason why. It is assumed that the combination of factors including easy access to potent and addictive prescription medications and high-stress exposure levels could be a potential reason.
Treatment for both cultures are the same as it is for the general population. However, many agencies have in-house or regional resources for their members to utilize as they need. These specialized resources often have retired law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, or military members available.
Image provided by Western Division (2021). Military & First Responder Discounts. It’s Our Salute to You! Retrieved from https://www.westerndivision.org/military_discount/