Lithgow, an English professor at UNC, said group members will read war literature and share thoughts on both war literature and their own war experiences.
“It’s important to create an opportunity for veterans to get together to talk about anything,” Lithgow said.
“Literature is kind of an excuse. One of the things that makes arts important is that there is a way for people to kind of reflect on their thoughts and experiences.”
The group could be helpful for veterans because they face challenges when trying to re-adapt to civilian life, said Yuschok, a psychiatrist at the Durham Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center.
“Military culture is different from civilian life,” she said. “And people need to adjust to a different pace and timing and relationships.”
Yuschok said she will serve as a guide for the group, helping the veterans find medical help if needed and helping to create the group’s reading curriculum. She said that for some veterans, problems might emerge from the discussions, including intense emotions, intrusive memories and grief.
“Sometimes people have avoided thinking about what they’ve gone through,” she said. “There might be some intense emotion that they pushed aside while they were in the battlefield.”
Howell, a ten-year veteran of the N.C. National Guard and the founder of the group, said he doesn’t expect much negative emotion to come from the discussions.
“When a veteran goes to groups like this, or they go to the VA, they meet other veterans,” he said. “They are able to express something and share something that they cannot sincerely share with their friends and family.”
Lithgow said the theme for the first group discussion was homecoming after being in service and communicating with families and friends. Yuschok said this is a common theme in war literature.
“Many authors have articulated the challenges of adjusting to civilian life after war experience,” she said.
Howell said six people signed up for the first group discussion, and he hopes to keep it small. Lithgow said there are drawbacks to large discussion groups.
“We want to make sure that no one person dominates the conversation, and we want to make sure that people find a way into the conversation, because sometimes it could be hard,” she said.
Yuschok said it’s important for veterans not to feel isolated.
“We are hoping that seeing and reading how other people have described this transition and these experiences will be helpful and inspiring and let people know that they are not the only ones wrestling with the adjustment to civilian life,” she said.
Howell said the veterans reading group could be helpful to other veterans in other areas.
“We can help to bridge that gap, in a way. For veterans come together and discuss their experiences and get to a place where it’s not so hard for civilians to understand us, or for us to understand civilians, because ultimately we are all Americans, we are all family.”