Here's What You Need To Remember: Isolated, unemployed, and unable to adjust.
That’s what Russian veterans face after they leave the military.
Even as Russian state-sponsored trolls target U.S. veterans in an attempt to sow dissension and distrust, it’s Russian veterans that are experiencing significant problems as they reenter civilian life.
“For a significant part of the military personnel and their family members, dismissal from the army leads to the collapse of many hopes and the loss of life and development prospects,” according to Russian researcher Vadim L. Kalinichev.
The scale of the problem is evident in a survey of 248 combat-experienced officers belonging to the internal security forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Some 49 percent felt that society was not ready to receive them, 43 percent felt their future prospects were dim and 18 percent said they had issues that required a psychologist,
“People who, from a young age, have devoted themselves to hard military service, as a rule, find it difficult to adapt to new conditions,” wrote Kalinichev in the Russian news publication Independent Military Review. “Social and psychological adaptation becomes a difficult process for them: it is necessary to master new social roles, form a new identity that will allow us to adequately perceive ourselves, our environment, and find a new profession. Moreover, difficulties await the former military at every turn. It is difficult for them to navigate the world of civil professions and sources of information, to relate their capabilities to the requirements of various types of labor, to look for vacant positions and conclude labor contracts.”
This isn’t the first time that Russia has had a veterans problem. After World War II, millions of Red Army soldiers returned home to face a devastated economy and Stalinist repression (prisoners who survived Nazi captivity were sentenced to the gulag on suspicion of treason). Soviet veterans of the Afghan War returned home expecting victory parades, only to find their sacrifices forgotten.
Yet the problems faced by Russian veterans would seem familiar to their American counterparts. Finding a job, locating a new place to live, gaining new skills for the civilian market. For officers, whose ranks conferred some prestige in the former Soviet Union, adjusting to civilian life has been particularly wrenching. “Serious difficulties in choosing a civilian profession are experienced by up to 70 percent of reserve officers,” Kalinichev found. “Many of them remain unemployed for up to a year or more.”
How well Russian officers reintegrate into civilian life depends on three factors: the health of Russia’s economy, how willing is civilian society to accept veterans, and the degree of support from the Russian government. But the government doesn’t always remember its soldiers: ex-Russian soldiers face “open disregard by the military command and control bodies at various levels of the problems of former military personnel,” according to Kalinichev. “The reluctance of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation to participate in solving their problems after leaving the military service.”
Nonetheless, Kalinichev can’t resist favorably contrasting the agonies that America’s Vietnam veterans faced when returning home in the 1970s: the Russian government has made some efforts, including assigning psychologists at regional centers to counsel veterans. But successful transforming soldiers into civilians requires effort.
“Specialists achieved the greatest effect in the psychological adaptation of military personnel where systematic planned work was carried out taking into account the specifics of the stages of the transition of former military personnel and members of their families to new conditions of civilian life,” Kalinichev concluded.
This article first appeared in March 2020 and is being republished due to reader interest.