When You Thank A Vet


Today marks Veteran’s Day here in the United States. It’s a day we set aside to honor those who have fought so valiantly for our country.

With the advent of technology, reaching out to Veterans to declare your support is easier than ever before. Businesses, organizations, individuals – everyone is sending a shout out to Vets today. It is amazing to see the support flowing forth.

But.

I think there is an aspect we often forget about as we reach out to give our thanks to the vets who have fought for us through service in various branches of our military.

It is important to remember they are human too. They have emotions, reactions, and they too, are remembering their journey in their own way as we lavish them with praise and appreciation.

Some may struggle with PTSD. Others are lost in thoughts of brothers in arms lost to battle. Others contend with the idea that those who thank them for all they have taught them are themselves the teachers and worthy of praise.

We forget, all too often, I think, the intense emotional aspect of war. The toll it takes on all of us. Perhaps this is because best summed up by this quote:

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Is war something we are unable to closely associate with human emotion because of the very nature of it? Is battle too fierce? The fighting too gruesome? Do our psyche’s not allow us to carry the traumatic alongside the sensitivity? Is this our brain’s way of protecting us from an emotional overload? Or is it because the majority of soldiers for so long have been men and therefore not allowed to operate as anything less than robotic?

We do not broadcast our losses on the evening news as often as we should, a point made in this deeply moving post about a citizen sharing a last flight home by a soldier. Instead, we relegate ourselves to separation from the tremendous loss and focus instead on the reunions of soldiers with loved ones. We are not acknowledging, in my humble opinion, the steep and tragic cost associated with prolonged battle. The loss, the heartache, the raw emotions steeped in battle and drenched in blood shed against tyrants who dare to threaten our freedoms, are far too great for humanity to bear.

We, for whatever reason, do not often equate humanity with soldiering. Empathy and compassion fails to mesh well with the ferocity of battle. So when soldiering and emotion intersects, as it often does on Veteran’s Day for so many, it can be triggering. It may leave some feeling overwhelmed and not knowing quite how to deal with the gratitude flowing their way.

It is not like Christmas or Thanksgiving. We are not celebrating, we are honoring. There are no gifts or celebratory meals. Instead, there is quiet recognition and thoughtful consideration of all that our veterans have sacrificed. Like anything else, we all choose to do this differently for it is intensely personal for those of us who have a veteran in our lives. Whether they be brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, or grandmothers, how we choose to honor their memories is as unique as a snowflake which falls with the first snow.

We may choose to honor them quietly or we may make a public statement. For me, today, I am wearing my grandfather’s tag and will probably at some point watch Mister Roberts, a movie I used to watch with my grandfather quite often. Both of my grandfathers served in the Navy in WWII and although they never spoke of it with me, I knew they carried their experiences with them, as all veterans do. Military service is a part of their souls and the very fiber of their beings. Once you have served, there is rarely a time when you can untangle soldier from human. Therein, in my opinion, lies the challenge in coming to grips with the flow of gratitude on Veteran’s Day.

I only saw my grandfather cry once – when we were at a play meant to raise funds for the WWII D-Day Monument. As the telegraph notifications came in reporting the deaths of the soldiers in Bedford, Virginia, the hall went completely silent. Deeper than an audible silence; the kind of silence which envelops a room when there is great respect for what is occurring. I glanced over at my grandfather at this point to see his cheeks soaked in tears. I quickly looked away and struggled to hide my own flooded cheeks shortly thereafter. We never spoke of these tears but I never forgot them for they symbolized the emotional depths of war for me and always will.

For many, in particular those who have seen war since 2001, today is different. The memories are recent, the pain is ongoing, and they have joined the Greatest Generation in knowing the pain of war. Yes, the pain. War is not some glorified wonderful thing. It is not the Hollywood version where there is a rise to action, action, and then a conclusion. It’s messy, it rips families apart, it pushes soldiers to their limits and back again, and if they’re lucky, they get to come home, alive and still intact both physically and mentally. For all too many, this is not the case, and their wounds may not be visible to the eye.

veteran-infographicSuicide rates among soldiers, for the first time ever, outnumbers the deaths occurring in active combat. There is PTSD, and number of additional other issues which, again, because of technology and advancements in mental health awareness & medicine, are now at the forefront of the adverse affects of war. Women who are deployed face a higher risk of Postpartum Depression which in turn, affects an entire generation. War truly leaves a mark on every one of us, both on and off the battlefield.

So today, when you thank a veteran, particularly a younger veteran, take the time to embrace that they may be filled with emotions they may not be ready for today as a result of the onslaught of gratitude. Take the time to realize that these brave men and women have lost loved ones, brothers in arms, and they are replaying this in their heads as you thank them for their service. Respect their journey but also take the time to check in with them and ask them how they are doing.

For they are soldiers, they are brave men and women, but beneath it all, they have a heart, a soul, and they have bled for us, some more than others. They deserve nothing less than our greatest compassion and understanding for the hell they witnessed on the battlefield as they fought for freedom from tyranny in our great country’s name.

Sometimes God whispers at just the right time


This morning I arose to a husband who hadn’t been to sleep because of his back pain, a screaming hungry baby, and two toddler girls who were extremely excited about going to church.

I didn’t want to go.

But they were beyond excited. Allison had told Charlotte that today was Sunday and that meant they got to go to Sunday School!

Chris certainly wasn’t going as he hadn’t been to sleep yet. The in-laws were out of town so we couldn’t ask them to pick up the girls. If we stayed home, the morning promised to be a difficult one.

So I went even though I didn’t want to go. I fixed breakfast, the girls and I ate, got the girls ready, got myself ready, and out the door we went. I arrived early and sat down next to some family friends and ended up talking with her about PPD. She shared with me about her experience and would you believe that 25 years ago, she had an AWESOME doctor who was caring and knowledgeable? I told her she was SO lucky to have that doctor in her life at that time. What a blessing!

Church Service started and after a few rounds of cleansing song, a soldier fresh from his 3rd tour of Iraq approached the stage to present the church with an American flag that had flown high in Iraq on his tour. There was not a dry eye in the house as we all stood to recognize his amazing service to our country. Agree with the war or not, there is no wavering in the military’s dedication to what this country stands for and I commend them all for their service.

The pastor began to preach and as he spoke, I found myself distracted, something that doesn’t really happen a lot to me at church because our pastor is awesome, as he was today. I flipped to the back of my bible and began to look for the word “depression” in the concordance and term glossary. I found it and began to read the bible verses quoted there. Once I was done, I returned my attention to the sermon, which focused on 1 John, chapters 1 and 2. Walking in the light with Jesus and focusing on the truth of the Word, and accepting forgiveness that Jesus so amazingly gave to us.

As the invitation was given, I felt an overwhelming urge to look towards the front. I saw a man who had gone forward and after the invitational song was over, our pastor shared with us what this man had shared. He had been struggling with Depression and wanted the Church to pray for him. We were led in closing prayer and dismissed.

Instead of leaving, I went against the crowd to the front of the Church. I knew God was guiding me forward. At the front of the church, I sat down, noticing an older woman in the second row just crying her heart out. I went over and asked her if she was his wife, she said she was. Telling her about my bout with depression (briefly) and letting her know that I volunteer to help women with depression, I asked their names and wrote them down so I could pray for them as they faced this together. I also wrote down all of my information and gave it to her with the instruction for her to call me or email anytime she needed to talk. I then sat with her until the men of the church were done praying for her husband, letting her know that she didn’t need to talk to me, that we could just sit there together quietly. I also spoke with her husband and let him know the same thing – and will be sending a book to the Church for him tomorrow. It’s a book that Tara Mock over at Out of the Valley recommended to me – New Light on Depression by David B. Biebel D. Min. & Harold G. Koenig, MD. It is not only medically valuable, but biblically valuable as well.

I don’t ask much of you, dear readers, but if you would lift this family in prayer, I know they would appreciate it greatly. I would appreciate it greatly.

Even when God whispers, I hear him. For this I stand amazed. It has been a long time and I have missed hearing His voice guide my actions.

Give An Hour


I found this article on my cell today and wanted to share it with you. Please pass this information on to anyone you know that will find it useful OR can volunteer. Give an Hour is working very hard to help our soliders and their families.

Here’s their mission statement with the article below:

Our Mission
Our mission is to develop a national network of volunteers capable of responding to both acute and chronic conditions that arise within our society. Our first target population is the U.S. troops and families who are being affected by the current military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Give an Hour is asking mental health professionals nationwide to literally give an hour of their time each week to provide free mental health services to military personnel and their families. Research will guide the development of additional services needed by the military community, and appropriate networks will be created to respond to those needs. Individuals who receive services will be given the opportunity to give an hour back in their own community.

 

Psychiatrists Volunteer to help soldiers

WASHINGTON – Thousands of private counselors are offering free services to troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems, jumping in to help because the military is short on therapists.

On this Memorial Day, America’s armed forces and its veterans are coping with depression, suicide, family, marital and job problems on a scale not seen since Vietnam. The government has been in beg-borrow-and-steal mode, trying to hire psychiatrists and other professionals, recruit them with incentives or borrow them from other agencies.

Among those volunteering an hour a week to help is Brenna Chirby, a psychologist with a private practice in McLean, Va.

“It’s only an hour of your time,” said Chirby, who counsels a family member of a man deployed multiple times. “How can you not give that to these men and women that … are going oversees and fighting for us?”

There are only 1,431 mental health professionals among the nation’s 1.4 million active-duty military personnel, said Terry Jones, a Pentagon spokesman on health issues.

About 20,000 more full- and part-time professionals provide health care services for the Veterans Administration and the Pentagon. They include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers and substance abuse counselors.

According to veterans groups and health care experts, that is not enough for a mental health crisis emerging among troops and their families.

“Honestly, much is being done by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said retired Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist. “But the need to help these men and women goes far beyond whatever any government agency can do.”

About 300,000 of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to have anxiety or post-traumatic stress, a recent private study said. Add in spouses left home to manage families and households without their partner as well as children deprived of parents during long or repeated tours of duty, and the number with problems balloons to 1 million, Xenakis said.

The VA says it has seen 120,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have symptoms of mental health problems, half with post-traumatic stress disorder. Although rates are high from those two wars, most of the 400,000 patients seen in VA last year for PTSD were Vietnam-era veterans, officials said.

Civilian groups are trying to step in for troops from the current conflicts.

“There are over 400,000 mental health professionals in our great country,” said Barbara V. Romberg, a clinical psychologist who practices in Washington. “Clearly, we have the resources to meet this challenge.”

Romberg founded Give An Hour, a group of 1,200 mental health professionals donating one hour of free care a week to troops, veterans or family members. They have to commit to doing it for a year.

Romberg, in cooperation with the American Psychiatric Foundation, hopes to find 40,000 volunteers over the next three years, or about 10 percent of available civilian professionals. The effort to get the word out to those who need the help and to recruit and train volunteers is being backed by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Foundation.

Romberg’s group is the largest of a number across the nation.

Nearly 200 also have volunteered for the Soldiers Project, started by psychiatrists at the Ernest S. Lawrence Trauma Center of the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies – and now operating in Chicago, Seattle and New York.

The Coming Home Project in the San Francisco area has dozens of volunteers. A group of veterans, psychotherapists and interfaith leaders, it offers everything from retreats and workshops to yoga and other stress management programs as well as the counseling.

“Thousands of therapists across the country are donating their time to give vital treatment and support to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, veterans and families,” Xenakis said at a recent news conference announcing the Lilly grant. “These young men and women volunteered to defend our nation, and now our nation can volunteer to serve them.”

The government acknowledges there might be a place for such groups.

“While the military health system does not endorse volunteer health care organizations, we recognize that groups such as this one offer more options for our warriors and their families,” said the Pentagon’s Jones.

“If these mental health caregivers are willing to give and learn about our warriors, they may be more willing to become TRICARE providers,” he said, referring to the network of more than 300,000 physicians and specialists and 55,000 pharmacies that support the department’s military medical facilities and uniformed medical corps.

The military health care system serves about 9.2 million people – active duty, and guard and reserve components for all the services, as well as their families and retirees and their families.

Jones said there are 3,000 mental health professionals available under TRICARE in addition to the 1,431 in uniform. The VA said it has 17,000 full- and part-time mental health workers, 3,800 of which it has hired in the past few years.

The services are trying to hire about 575 more. Also, about 200 mental health officers from the U.S. Public Health Service will be detailed temporarily to the Pentagon to work in military facilities, Jones said. An agreement between the Pentagon and the Health and Human Services Department is to be signed in the coming weeks to finalize the arrangement.

The Pentagon has made a special effort to hire since a yearlong task force last year found it had neither enough money nor staff to support the military and family mental health needs during peacetime, let along during war.

Staffing was not the only issue. Officials have worked to change the military culture in which there is a stigma in seeking help and a fear doing so will harm careers.

They have tried to make mental health care more accessible, embedding more workers with troops, offering suicide prevention training and advising troops how to recognize mental problems in themselves and others.

The military also is working to assess mental health among troops, screening them before and after deployments and sending mental health teams to the front each year to measure morale, the amount of mental health problems, availability of care and related matters.

Programs to help families with housing, child care and other issues have been bolstered. Troops get mental-health training in a program called “Battlemind” that teaches about common problems to expect at home as they readjust to domestic life.

Still, some emotional difficulties are a normal reaction to war.

“No one who goes to war comes home the same person,” said Patrick Campbell, a medic for an infantry unit who served in Iraq in 2004-2005. “There are things you have to unlearn to emotionally feel again.”

 

By PAULINE JELINEK     Associated Press Writer