In every election cycle for the past 10 years, it seems I’ve heard newscasters say the war isn’t a big issue with voters. What? Something seems wrong with that. Yes, the economy is a huge issue and people vote with their pocketbooks. But to relegate two wars in which fellow Americans – acting in our name -- are fighting, dying and losing limbs to an issue of picayune importance?
It’s not right.
To be fair, most Americans are supportive of our nation’s military. In a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, nine out of 10 Americans are proud of our troops and many have personally thanked someone who is or previously has served. http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/05/us/war-attitudes/index.html
Still, there’s a disconnect between America’s civilians and its military personnel. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2012/11/09/veterans-day-charlie-rangel-miltary-suicides/1692757/ It’s not like during the Vietnam War when Americans watched the atrocities on the nightly news every night. Not like World Wars I and II when folks on the homefront were buying war bonds, rationing goods and planting victory gardens. That cohesiveness has long since disipitated. We’re disparate parts, unfamiliar with each other.
It’s ironic. Today’s super-media world in which we can speak to each other over time and distance hasn’t erased the loneliness and isolation our military men and women feel. We can consume all the news we want anytime we want, yet our infinite choices leave us more fragmented than connected. There are intelligent news stories from reputable news sources, but overall –and it’s probably all our faults – they’re given short-shrift in the public landscape.
Yet, we all get the gist; something is wrong here. Most of us don’t understand the unique pressures our service men and women are enduring, but we know it’s nothing good and it leaves this uneasy feeling in the air. We’ve caught enough of the news to know that veterans are exhausted from multiple tours of duty. (Some have been deployed 10 times.)
It’s taxing on a person on a person to make the transition from a war to peace time environment. In a war zone, a soldier witnesses horrific violence, sees friends killed. The soldier constantly has to be on guard to save his or her own life. Making the transition from life in an unfamiliar, inhospitable country back the United States where life goes on as it always has would be tough for anyone. For servicemen and women, dealing with the anxiety of not knowing if they will be called back for deployment, it has to be all the more worse. There would be no time to readjust to life at home.
Not surprisingly, PTSD rates have been staggering. All the problems that go with it have affected veterans and their families at high and disproportionate rates: divorce, spousal abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, unemployment, child abuse, homelessness and most alarmingly suicide. http://costsofwar.org/article/us-veterans-and-military-families http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/26/for-veterans-a-surge-of-new-treatments-for-trauma/ http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/number-of-homeless-veterans-dropping-notably-but-major-hurdles-remain-in-solving-the-problem/2012/11/11/1d536564-2be8-11e2-b631-2aad9d9c73ac_story_2.html http://www.npr.org/2012/04/25/151387001/report-va-mental-health-treatment-stats-misleading
We’ve lost more of our active duty and veteran service men and women to suicide than we have to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. While active military in these wars comprised less than one percent of the population, veterans make up 20 percent of the nation’s suicides. The Dept. of Defense reports that veterans take their lives at the rate of one every 80 minutes. A veteran’s likelihood of committing suicide is double that of the civilian population. For a person between ages 17 and 24, that number is quadrupled. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/kristof-a-veterans-death-the-nations-shame.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
That is unacceptable. We can never do enough to thank our veterans. This small, brave group of people has put their education, family, careers…their lives on hold to defend America, and if they are unable to access adequate mental health care, it is a shame we all share as a nation. They should never be left behind, never forgotten.
Of course, all veterans are aware of the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs http://www.va.gov/ and the American Legion http://www.legion.org/veteransbenefits/99627/va-revamping-suicide-prevention-campaign.
Here are some organizations designed to help empower veterans and their families.
http://veteranscrisisline.net/ The number is 1-800-273-8255. Press 1 or text 838255. Help is available 24 hours a day.
This site, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has links to several sites sponsored by community organizations and all branches of the service designed to prevent veteran suicides. http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Find_Support/Veterans_Resources/Veterans_and_Suicide/Veterans_and_Suicide.htm
This is a program started by the Dept. of Defense to provide resources and encourage active service members and veterans to seek help as needed. http://www.realwarriors.net/
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America http://iava.org/veterans2012/index.html
The National Military Family Organization http://www.militaryfamily.org/
Military One Source http://www.militaryonesource.mil/MOS/f?p=MOS:HOME:0::::
Here is a link from the Obama Whitehouse about laws signed in the past year to assist veterans in such things as tax credits, continuing education and finding employment. http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/veterans
Here is an excellent list of things ordinary people can do to honor veterans: http://militaryblog.militaryavenue.com/2009/11/101-ways-to-thank-veteran.html
Despite our apathy toward the wars, I sincerely believe that the vast majority of Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, white, African-American, Christian, Atheist, Jewish, people who believe in the wars, people who have protested – want the best for our veterans and active service members. Perhaps all of us --- from a public sidetracked by entertainment to politicians not making it a big enough campaign issue to a government telling us to shop and go to Disneyland – are at fault.
It’s no use, casting blame though. Let’s work on doing better. Check out the above listed websites and look for more. Seek out ways you can improve the lives of service personnel overseas whether it’s by sending books, toiletries, a Christmas tree…whatever. If you know a veteran, talk to them and more importantly, listen. Our oldest veterans, those who served in World War II and Korea, are sadly dying off, and to be in their presence, to hear their stories, is a thing to be treasured.
I read that around half the Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans think the wars were not worth it. That’s profound, especially considering the tragedies, the loss of lives, limbs and brain functioning resulting from those wars. I don’t know exactly what I think, but the veterans of those wars can surely speak with more authority on the subject than I can. Their words, experiences and lives underscore how important it is that we as a public educate ourselves and stay informed.
I’ll never forget driving in my car on the eve of the Iraq War and hearing people call into the radio (a classic rock station nontheless) to say, “Let’s blow em’ off the map.” Uncool. War is not some video game. Lives are involved, human lives hanging in the balance. Having to engage and witnessing the death and violence of war has no doubt contributed to the mental health crisis among veterans.
Cheering on war is tasteless. Being there for our military men and women, supporting them, welcoming them home and doing right by them will always serve the interest of righteousness.