By: Janet Jay
The U.S. Pain Foundation is pleased to announce its virtual support group connecting veterans and active service members dealing with chronic pain. Few groups for veterans focus specifically on chronic pain, much less provide an education-focused, evidence-based approach like those in Pain Connection, the organization’s national network of support groups.
“Veterans are 40 percent more likely to experience chronic pain than civilians,” says Gwenn Herman, LCSW, DCSW, Pain Connection’s Clinical Director. “In addition, they face high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans and active military members need and deserve specialized support that recognizes the unique challenges they face.”
The veterans’ group is led by Kate Benson, who spent 12 years serving in the Coast Guard before thyroid cancer, chronic migraine, and a painful condition called trigeminal neuralgia put an unexpected end to her military career. But to her and many veterans like her, it’s not ‘just a career’—it’s a tribe and a culture.
Benson knows what it felt like for her “self-esteem to hit the dirt, to go from being a high functioning person who is a necessary piece in a whole cause to feeling like a burden.” She had spent her entire adulthood in the armed forces, and unexpectedly back in civilian life she felt like she spoke a completely different language than her peers. She just didn’t fit in, and every thwarted effort to connect made her feel even more discouraged.
“It’s nice to have the same foundation, nice not to have to worry about the language I’m using, the acronyms, to be able to express myself and not have to start over with the basics,” shares Benson. “These are my folks, they know what it’s like to function up high and then feel like a nothing, have the military tell you you’re nothing.”
That connection was one reason she jumped at the opportunity to lead a group for other veterans over Zoom using one-on-training with Herman that combines the power of social connection and community with learning practical coping skills. Benson knows what it’s like to feel isolated and how valuable a lifeline can be. She also saw that it would be a helpful way to engage with people only as much as they’re comfortable with—whether in their pajamas or off camera entirely.
“I wish people knew that when they come to my group, it will be a judgment-free zone,“ explains Benson. “I don’t care what you do or how you’re dressed. There’s zero judgment, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all had that day.”
She hopes that people new to chronic pain or newly out of the armed forces will feel able to reach out about their challenges and form a sense of community around their shared experiences.
“The first thing we have to do is get out of our heads that ‘feeling pain is wrong’ and that ‘wallowing on the couch’ is a waste of time, and accept each other for where we are,” she says. “And that’s a really nice feeling.”
The Veteran Support Group meets on the first Thursday of every month from 8–9:30 pm ET. To register and learn more, click the button below: