There is a checklist of things every veteran must accomplish when returning from active duty. Making a smooth transition may mean settling into a new job or seeking a degree, as well as finding somewhere to live and dealing with the psychological adjustment between military service and everyday life.

"A generation of young veterans is returning from combat to everyday life."

Every vet's experience is different, but there are enough common elements that organizations can create programs that will help many others. These are needed now more than ever, as the post-9/11 conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as ongoing anti-terror operations around the world, have brought about a generation of young veterans returning from combat to everyday life. A few communities have taken especially strong steps to meet their needs.

Helping vets help themselves and others
A unique example of re-integration into civilian life recently opened in Missoula, Montana, according to local radio station MTPR. At RIVER, the Rural Institute for Veterans Education and Research, trainees who recently left the military gain new skills which can, in turn, help others. For instance, veterans can use GI Bill funds to sign up for classes that will teach them how to provide services such as recreational therapy or pain management.

The news provider explained that RIVER is intended to go well beyond the scope of basic care patients may receive from other services. The program teaches its students to try new methods to combat common problems, which can, in turn, help fellow military members who have returned home with more serious problems.

"[W]e're learning how to go outside the scope of just what's typically presented by the Veterans Administration, you know – 'Oh you've got some pain – here's some meds.' Well, if that's not working, where do you go? That's what we're learning here," Afghanistan veteran Justin Groff explained to MTPR.

Ed Lesofski, executive director of the program, noted that the students who take classes at RIVER aren't just gaining the experience to help others – they're simultaneously receiving help returning to their civilian communities. He told MTPR part of the program is based on acclimating to everyday roles, echoing the training service members received when they joined the military.

"Classes can assist vets in reconnecting with spouses who have not experienced military life."

Instilling a new mindset
Young vets just returning from conflict may initially have trouble speaking about the experience, even with those closest to them. The wellness elements of RIVER's programs try to bridge this gap, according to NBC Montana. Groff spoke with this news provider as well, explaining that classes can help counter negative feelings and assist vets in reconnecting with spouses and other family members who have not experienced military life and have a different frame of reference.

NBC Montana noted that 300 vets are enrolled in the programs at RIVER now, either re-acclimating, learning to provide care for others or both. Despite its relatively light population density, the state of Montana is home to approximately 1,000 veterans. Having a resource center available to act as a venue for education and adjustment will surely help many of these individuals find satisfying and comfortable lives now that they are done with their tours of duty.