Troubled veterans end up on the street

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A new survey shows that nearly a hundred Norwegian veterans of international military operations, especially in Lebanon and the Balkans, have wound up homeless and suffering psychiatric problems. Researchers fear the actual number of troubled veterans is much higher.

The new survey by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR), reported by newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday, aimed to get an overview of the numbers of homeless people in Norway. NIBR’s research ended up revealing that 98 veterans of United Nations-led operations overseas were among the homeless who came to light when going through files of those with no registered address in Norway.

Many ‘suffer in silence’
“The fact that 98 veterans are having such a hard time that they don’t even have a place to live is something that must be taken very seriously,” Odd Helge Olsen, president of Norway’s veterans association for international operations (NVIO), told Dagsavisen. “We also know that many suffer in silence, even though there’s fortunately been more openness around the problem lately.”

Those involved once took part in UN peacekeeping forces, for example, with blue berets and the Norwegian flag on their uniforms, Olsen noted. Many have risked their lives for Norway but seen their own lives destroyed upon homecoming.

“A common problem among the troubled veterans is that they have nightmares in which they relive dramatic situations from their service overseas,” Olsen said. “That often results in sleeplessness and high consumption of alcohol as a form of self-imposed medication.”

He said that many veterans have suffered post-traumatic stress, internalized it and believed it would pass. Few sought help, although some have been fortunate to get help from a spouse, other family members or friends. “Some step in and get them into treatment,” said Olsen, who encourages veterans to seek help.

NVIO offers assistance and has noticed that many of the veterans they meet have served in Lebanon and the Balkans. Olsen said he worries that some who have sought help don’t get the reaction they need from doctors who aren’t trained to deal with their problems. “Then they (the veterans) are deeply disappointed,” Olsen said.

More help on the way
When NIBR uncovered the 98 homeless veterans, they found that 84 percent of them were men, most all were born in Norway, 90 percent were single and 42 percent were older than 45. “We found an overrepresentation of veterans in institutions, prisons or shelters for those who sleep outdoors,” researchers Evelyn Dyb and Katja Johnnessen wrote in their report.

Fully 84 percent were addicted to drugs or alcohol, more than half had psychiatric problems and more than a quarter had a physical ailment or disability.

Olsen said the government has launched a program in which six ministries will cooperate on 126 measures to monitor military personnel before, during and after serving overseas. He said NVIO believed the program will help, especially efforts to improve health care aimed at the special challenges faced by veterans.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund