More than 200,000 U.S. military members transition from active duty to civilian life each year, but returning to life back home is sometimes easier said than done.

"I don't believe that there's a recognition that there needs to be a transition from a battle-consciousness to a civilian one," said Tom Davis, a retired pastor in Wilmington.

Davis said while the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs does its best to deal with "the most egregious cases of hurt," like PTSD or traumatic brain injury, softening the reentry for veterans back to life at home is low on the priority list.

"Our armed services, I think, have not been quite aware that that's important, to have some transitioning rituals to come back," Davis said.

That's why he started the Interfaith Veterans' Workgroup, a Wilmington-based organization Davis hopes will fill the void. IVW is modeled after the national nonprofit, "Mission Continues," which helps veterans readjust to civilian life by deploying them on different community-based service projects.

"A good many vets don't have PTSD, classic symptoms of flashbacks and perhaps domestic violence and that sort of thing. But they do miss the service, they miss the sense of purpose that they have, the camaraderie that they have in the service and the excitement as well," said Davis, who speaks from firsthand experience. He served in Vietnam in 1970 with the Naval Reserves.

"If you've been in a battle, theater of war, that tension and responsibility to do your part to help your fellows survive is such a strong human feeling," Davis said. "That kind of camaraderie is, I don't think one finds it in anything else."

Almost a year old, IVW currently has 35 members, mostly Vietnam vets. But with the VA predicting the post 9/11 vet population to grow to 3.5 million by 2019, Davis hopes that, by then, IVW will not only be a built-in community for returning veterans seeking out that camaraderie, but that it will also become the Wilmington chapter of "Mission Continues."

One of IVW's initial service projects is the Veterans Freedom Mural. The project is one of Wilmington Creative District's public art initiatives to revitalize downtown Wilmington and engage the community at the same time.

Philadelphia-based Eric Okdeh is the artist.

"The larger image is a scene of two soldiers. And the one is just returning home, he's decorated with medals. And then there's an older veteran from previous wars that's there's to greet him. And then they're literally positioned in front of the world, the community," Okdeh described. "The title is 'Getting Back to the World.'"

The 31 panels hand-painted by volunteers, including veterans, will color the north wall of Marcella's House at 9th and Washington Streets in Wilmington. Run by Connections, Marcella's House is a residential facility for formerly homeless veterans.

The mural is scheduled to go up next month.


WHYY is joining with public media outlets across the country for a project known as Veterans Coming Home. This story is part of that project.