Caring for those who served us
Veterans Day ‘ that special day set aside to recognize the contributions and sacrifices made by those who have served in the United States military.
Every nation needs a military, and our country has benefited from the protection of our values and very lives ours has given us. We are basically a land of freedom, opportunity and justice. It wouldn’t have been the same country if the Nazis or the communists had won, or even the British.
But along with the wonderful benefits to the victors come the painful fallout of the acts of war. People are pulled to their highest acts of bravery but also are challenged with the injuries that inevitably result from conflict.
We all live every day with the fallout of our inability to get along with ourselves and others. Peace is not easy, but the price of battle is beyond our ability to pay. I am not talking simply of the cost of a high-tech airplane or the rebuilding of ravaged buildings. I am speaking of the human tragedy of scarred lives. One cannot witness death and destruction without wearing its imprint on their very soul. Nor can it go unnoticed that violent actions have been carved into the everyday ability of bodies to move as they once did. And everyone is affected whether they saw a violent act, were hit themselves or drove a veteran to the hospital.
In reality, we all face the grim fallout that follows veterans from combat. Men and women of the military are tough and don’t talk about their trials. But we as a society have awakened to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The anxiety disorder isn’t as evident as physical casualties, like missing limbs from explosives, but it is just as real. PTSD digs in and does not melt away.
I remember vividly the sensation of watching our troops invade Iraq while I snacked on popcorn from the comfort of my cushy couch. The dust, the fear and the pain were all in real time as brought to us by embedded journalists and technology. I had no ability to affect the outcome and I could leave the room when I wished. There is something so wrong with this picture, and it hit me even as I did it.
The impact on civilians thousands of miles from the front lines is still to be studied. It does help us understand and appreciate the conditions under which our friends and family ‘ our service personnel ‘ are working. Instant communication between home and war zones does stamp its mark on us, and we do live with the impact.
In the second World War, it was weeks or months before people in our country knew what happened to whom on the battlefield. Today, military personnel in Iraq and their loved ones text message, e-mail and telephone back and forth constantly. The tragic shooting by a soldier who was serving as a psychiatrist at Fort Hood has given us a loud and harsh message that we all live with shared emotions for better and for worse.
The dark side of war often lurks in us for years. Our divorce courts and hospitals are places where the pain ‘ both physical and emotional ‘ can be found.
Beth Kanes is the president of the Indiana Mental Health Memorial Foundation. This is a startling statement she just sent to me: ‘We have more troops deployed than ever before ‘ over 1.6 million since the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq began. This is a long-term problem that will affect our country for generations to come.
‘More than 320,000 of those deployed will suffer from PTSD and major depression severe enough to need treatment. Of these, only 50 percent will seek care and only 25 percent will receive quality care. Of those who suffer and receive no care at all, 20 percent will commit suicide.
‘We are in the midst of a crisis that will impact all of us ‘ not just the people who have been to war.’
Why can’t we human beings get along?! Perhaps we never will. That could be our real sin. But we can work harder to understand why we war and how to resolve conflict without doing each other in. There is no greater mission for all of us. No one wins when the battlefield is our playground.
This Veterans Day perhaps we can discuss what our veterans have done for our country and the enormous price that they pay for their valor. In doing this, I hope we can increasingly understand that wars scar us all and that we as a civilization must do a better job of keeping the peace. Our very lives depend upon it.