What Happens When Soldiers Become Civilians Again?

Three men fought together on the front lines in Iraq, but faced new perils and different fates when they came back. Meet America's servicemen as they return from war.

What Happens When Soldiers Become Civilians Again?Courtesy Scott Quilty
The Leader

Returning from a client meeting to his office at Fathom Creative, Scott Quilty walks with a slight hitch, and his right leg squeaks with every step. When he sits down at his desk, his pant leg hikes up, revealing a titanium post where his ankle should be. As he chats with his colleague, he lays a business plan across his right arm, which ends in a flesh-colored prosthetic hand.

Now in his second year at Fathom, a design firm in Washington, D.C., the former infantry platoon leader, who was wounded when he stepped on an IED in Iraq in October 2006, has replaced his counterinsurgency manuals with books like Communicating Design. “Jumping out of airplanes and raiding houses doesn’t come in handy when you’re doing business development at a design firm,” he says. “They don’t need people who can kick down doors.” By current statistics, many employers don’t seem to need the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at all.

Today’s veterans are returning to a home front far different from past wars. In World War II, one in ten Americans served in uniform, and most of those who didn’t were directly affected by the war. Today, fewer than one percent of Americans, about 2.4 million men and women, have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. For many in America—indeed, for most—life has gone on much the same since the wars started ten years ago. And veterans take notice—eight in ten say the public doesn’t understand the problems faced by service members and their families, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Those problems are many and daunting, from psychological trauma and high divorce rates—especially among those who have served multiple combat tours—to homelessness, nagging feelings of alienation, and persistent unemployment.

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