In response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, the United States and a coalition of countries launched military operations known as Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. The Allied coalition was made up of 35* countries and 670,000 personnel.
More than 4,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served in the Persian Gulf region in 1990 - 1991, any one of them, then age 21 or older, could today be a client at Haven Toronto, a drop-in centre founded in 1933 in support of Canada’s veterans. In the aftermath of the conflict, Canadians continued to serve with peacekeeping and embargo-enforcement efforts in the region.
While there were no reports of serious casualties to members of the Canadian Armed Forces at the time, since the Gulf War there have been a series of complaints by some veterans about their overall health.
Gulf War veterans from several other Coalition nations - most notably the United States and the United Kingdom - have reported that they were experiencing symptoms and illnesses that they believed were caused by, or aggravated by, their service in the war. In 1992, the medical services in the various countries began to realize that the Gulf War veterans seemed to be displaying some common symptoms, and the issue gained a higher profile. The first studies of the Gulf War Syndrome began at about that time.
Upon returning from the Gulf War, many veterans faced the challenge of civilian reintegration. Life after the military can pose many challenges to veterans and family members. For some, returning to civilian life may feel like another battle that poses a variety of challenges that must not only be fought, but also understood and accepted in order to be successfully overcome.
“War is ugly, but it’s not the worst part of military service,” says one veteran with 15 years of service including deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. He continues, “The hard part is getting out. Transition is by far the biggest battle. In war your only worry is death, you don’t have to worry about bills and food and all the other small things we worry about back home.”
There are many factors involved in a veteran’s readjustment to civilian life, some of which include:
- Coexisting with cultures, values and norms different from those of the military;
- Dealing with authority figures;
- Re-establishing and even re-evaluating relationships with family and friends;
- Finding a new career path;
- Pursuing college/university education; and
- Locating a new home.
Other factors of readjustment may even be a bit more complex, so much so that they prevent a progressive and positive readjustment. This may include:
- One’s relationship with oneself, their sense of identity, purpose and self-worth;
- The reassessment of life goals and ambitions, followed by setting and achieving personal and professional goals;
- Coping with “starting over” in society, no longer holding the respect and authority afforded by a particular rank;
- The psychological effects of traumatic experiences which may inhibit personal and professional growth, including PTSD, survivor’s guilt, depression, and inclinations towards substance abuse and addiction; and
- A physical handicap as a result of injuries sustained in combat.
Veterans Affairs Canada, National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, Common Challenges During Readjustment To Civilian Life, US Veterans Magazine, and Common Issues Facing Veterans, New Direction For Veterans
*There are discrepancies in the number of countries that were part of the American-led Allied Coalition with sources suggesting anywhere from 34 to 39 countries.