Some Wounds Are Always Fresh

Posted: October 14, 2012 in Military, Rants
Tags: , , ,

When I started this blog just under a year ago, I did so for a bunch of reasons.  I was looking for a way to keep my writing skills fresh between writing college papers weekly and beginning Graduate school; I chose the “Don’t drink the Kool Aid” theme because I hate when people just seem to take what they hear and read as the gospel; and, I also did it in a small part because I realized that after 17 or 18 years in the Army and 50 something months spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, that I may benefit from simply being able to vent, especially, if I could do it in a somewhat constructive format.

The last, although a beneficial extra to me, is really a very important point for thousands of veterans out there.  It is not limited to those who have deployed to the War on Terror either.  There are still thousands of veterans of wars past who still hold inside all the pain, simply because they do not know where to go or as a by-product of generational ignorance.  Generational ignorance is not simply something that is part of the veteran, it is part of the thought process of entire generations.  It is not manly to cry, real men do not talk about their feelings, just suck it up, and thousands of other thoughts and catch phrases that we have all heard.  The problem with those types of phrases is that they have their time and place, especially true when there are lives on the line and mission completion is necessary.  It is not true for those times in between or long after we have hung up our swords.

There was a time, when if the Army wanted you to have a family it would have issued you one.  Sounds kind of harsh and unrealistic when said like that, but it goes to the heart and soul of the mission of a global military force.  Harsh as it may be, when it comes down to it, military service is about sacrifice, no one ever wants to die, but in the end, particularly with an all volunteer force, we are all sacrificing something.  All too often, it is the life of a service member.

In armies of the past, you could not have a family while you served.  It was a distraction that could affect the discipline of the service, thereby affecting the integrity of the unit.  In battle it was shield and sword, rigid discipline and standard tactics.  As time moved on, illegitimate marriages between soldiers and camp followers were the norm and the ever crafty soldier found creative ways to get around the laws and good officers turned a blind eye because they realized the importance of morale on the force as a whole.
Today’s American military is an all volunteer force.  A professional force, that has the benefits of family, their own homes and many more freedoms that they get to enjoy.  The military as a whole as recognized these changes as necessary in order to maintain the levels of personnel that they need.  It also speaks to the quality of soldier (used universally).  Having someone to come home to is additional incentive to do what is necessary to get back home.  In that is the problem my fellow veterans are facing today and those of wars past have the hardest time coming to grips with.

Soldiers do things in war that most people cannot even begin to imagine.  They change in ways that most civilians would find damaging just bearing witness to.  The average civilian who thinks the violence portrayed in Call of Duty even comes close to the realities of the battlefield would need to seek psychiatric counseling by just watching the realities of a true battle, something many service members witness over and over again.  The difference being, that civilian would not hesitate to go and get the assistance they need, while the service member just stuffs it down because they cannot fail the next time.  All this eventually compounds and it turns to anger, guilt, a lack of belief in themselves and the mission, and sometimes violence to those they hold most dear to them.  Many, many veterans never actually manifest these things outwards, but they try to find some kind of redemption in a bottle or tamp down the guilt they feel for surviving when their friends did not with drugs or other personally damaging acts.

Many of our homeless throughout the country are veterans.  The most damaged of those have a hard time coping, for too many reasons to even begin listing here.  Some are beyond help because they just do not want it, only they know why.  The real disgrace is the public who does nothing, they see it simply as one more blight upon the country, a result of the economy or simple mental illness.  They never take into consideration the utter horror that some veterans have been through, horror that had they not, their ability to think and act so callously may bot even be one of the freedoms they could enjoy.

The VA is overwhelmed with servicing today’s wounded warriors and their families, never mind trying to take care of those they did not do enough for from a historical perspective.  Viet Nam veterans are still suffering greatly from wounds, visible and invisible, developed in the jungles and highlands of that far off country.  We recently lost our last WWI veteran, WWII veterans are decreasing in numbers every day, Korean veterans are not very far behind them, hell many of the latter were veterans of WWII as well.  Viet Nam veterans are our most recently more than middle-aged crop of veterans.  They are the responsibility of leaders of my generation to take care of as they age; we are failing in that miserably.

As much as the effects of war has been made public since 9/11, we have failed to take care of our current veterans to the standard of care that is available, and we have failed to make it anywhere near acceptable as it should be for veterans that were younger than we are now when they went off to fight in a land most people could not identify on a globe.  Those poor people are suffering because we are failing them, just as our veterans today are suffering because it still is not erased of the stigma of weakness as it should be for seeking aid when it comes to invisible wounds.

I have seen my share of violence and the effects of it through my career; no where near as much as many of my fellow veterans, but much more than most of our country has.  I realized a long time ago that anything can affect you at any time and it does not have to manifest itself as a completely unusual act; it never really has to be seen by those around you.  One of the best things you can have is some sort of outlet, something that makes you feel good.  It can be a hobby, sports, religious belief, activism or even family.  For lots of people that is enough to help bleed away some of the badness that creeps in from time to time.  May others simply need to know they are not alone, loneliness is a harsh mistress sometimes.  Many others though, need more intensive help and I am just not sure that it is as available as it should be.

As improvements in the mental health arena for combat veterans improves it is incumbent upon us to pass those methodologies to the generations that paved the way for us.  Those veterans are part of the nation we fight for, a vital part.  Without them we would not have what we do to protect today.  20 years and 50% retirement pay  are just not enough considering you still retire as a relatively young person.  You may be you from a physiological standpoint, but as I have said before, there is old, then there is Army old.  We fail our future when we do not take care of our past.  We lose our history at a rapid rate these days, something that needs to change or our future generations will suffer for it.

Many of our veterans who need help should actually be revered, instead they are most often reviled.  It is a shame and speaks to the state of affairs of this country when we cannot honor our warriors that cannot come out of the shadows on their own.  It is all the more sad when they look around at the current generations and cannot see the light of their sacrifices shining through.  If pride in our country is only fashionable during times of crisis, what hope can they possibly have that the things they had to do in order to come back home were actually worth it?

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