American Veterans are proud and honorable. We have engaged in wars worldwide since 1776. We believed in the missions we fought.
For every veteran there comes a time when we think about what we do to readjust to civilian life. Do we forget and heal; we will never forget but we must heal, it is necessary for our very survival. After we have carried on and have gone to a place where we established our future we will come to a place for reflection and try to achieve resolution for all the why questions.
War is demonstrative; there is havoc that continues long after a peace treaty. There are times that cannot be erased from our minds. Once we have fought, we became warriors forever, forever branded like it or not. We live alone, but for another veteran who knows.
Veterans in the United States today are struggling with the issues all veterans have had to adjust to since the revolutionary war. How do we carry on after living a life so different from those that have not faced war?
The obstacles are many, divorce, alcoholism and drug addiction, mental disorders, employment, homelessness, physical disabilities but mostly a society that just does not know. You really have had to experienced war to understand it; there is no vocabulary that adequately explains it.
There are many clinicians who are good but what they are serving is textbook. They can direct an hour session, write their notes close the book and go home. They may be concerned after they leave the office but they are not feeling, thinking, or acting the same way their patients do. The clinician remembers, the veteran relives.
What do veterans need to re-adjust? We need friends and family to understand, a genuine curiosity in what we did. We need to feel there are others that understand and can relate to the internal difficulties we experience night and day. Veterans also need to accept our dilemma; veterans need to see that they are struggling. This they must do on their own, yes, they need help but initially they must give up the ghosts. The constant struggle never seems to end.
Veterans constantly think about what war did to them but it is very difficult to express their experiences. Explaining what it is like to kill someone, see children lying dead in a street, seeing mothers crying for those lost forever, losing a friend who saved your life and getting up the next day to face the same possibilities becomes the thousand-mile stare. Hanging your head low is common. Yet we have walked those five hundred yards at the end of a battle day after day.
Thanking a war veteran or any veteran is popular lately. We love you and want you to know we are trying to adjust. Readjustment is complex for many it never happens. Giving us patience is difficult; we do not expect you to understand. Suffering long is normal for many veterans. The thousand-mile stare can lift into a smile; it just takes time and teamwork.
Many people killed in wars are those civilians that are killed by their brutal dictators. Sitting in a comfortable chair watching the news and thinking war is wrong will not stop brutal dictators. Picking up a sign and marching against war does not stop the ambitions of a country that is guided by greed. Ending war or wishing for peace is something every war veteran yearns for. The truth is everyday American soldiers put their boots on, load their rifles and march into the fray.
Support our troops by creating affordable housing, providing adequate health care, education and employment programs for veterans. All this needs to be a priority on a national, state, community and neighborhood level. Do not depend entirely on the VA or your state departments of veterans affairs to do everything. Veteran service organizations and civic efforts are also capable and ready to assist. Sometimes all it takes is picking up the phone and saying, “I think we should do something to help our veterans.”
Veterans, you also must pick the phone up and make an appointment, talk to veterans you know and ask for advice, call the County Veterans Service officer or any of the veteran service organizations. There is no need to suffer when the anguish can end.
In addition, you vets out there, think about getting the care you need. It was your blood that guarded freedom, your sweat that saved lives, your duty you never gave up. It is honor born out of a belief that freedom comes at a price you paid in full.
Steven House is founder and director of the Wisconsin Military Historical Academy in Waupaca.