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Lest We Forget

Memorial Day weekend is upon us. Look back here over the weekend for contributions honoring those who have fallen.

– Army Times reports that thirty Iraqi and Afghanistan vets attempt suicide each day; Eighteen succeed –

By Linda Seebeth

Memorial Day became a national day of remembrance thanks to the efforts of wives and mothers of fallen soldiers. Civil War widows lobbied for years until Memorial Day—originally Decoration Day—was officially proclaimed in 1868. Those women lost loved ones and didn’t want the rest of the United States to forget the painful costs of war. Today, just as back then, our veterans and their families primarily carry the enormous burden of war for the rest of society. Memorial Day is commemorated one day a year, yet many of our fellow Americans live Memorial Day every day of their lives.

This I know, because when I married my husband, in many ways I married Vietnam. Forty-one years ago, John was a young soldier filled with the idealism of youth. He was a medic and volunteered to fly aboard helicopter ambulances. Unarmed Army medevacs—Dustoff—had the highest casualty rate of all aeronautical units in Vietnam. After nine months of flying rescue missions, John took a hit from an AK-47. Today, he still breathes and speaks from a hole in his neck—a daily reminder of the gunshot wound he received in Vietnam. Every war causes loss of life and limb, and every war creates disabled veterans with lifelong physical challenges.

While treating the wounded, John saw sights in the chopper’s cargo bay that no one would ever want to see—and no one could easily forget. John doesn’t want to remember the pleading, frightened eyes of grotesquely wounded soldiers or the whimpering of dying Vietnamese children. But those memories are etched deep inside him. I have learned that war does not always end when the warrior comes home.

He’s not the same Johnny anymore

Following the Civil War, the term soldier’s heart was used to describe the mental and emotional anguish experienced by veterans. During World War I, they called it shell shock, and later battle fatigue. Studies of World War II veterans found that virtually all soldiers who endured 60 days of combat displayed some sort of psychiatric symptoms.[1] Those age-old psychological burdens of war are now classified as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). However, the trauma is not really “post” because it can come alive at any moment. Like John, many veterans have intrusive upsetting memories or flashbacks. Other common symptoms include: nightmares, anxiety, depression, hyper-vigilance, a short fuse and uncontrollable anger.

Approximately 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. Another 320,000 have returned home with TBI (traumatic brain injury) from concussive blasts of explosive devices.[2] Despite record numbers of vets flooding the health care system, the Veteran’s Administration remained grossly underfunded, resulting in several months wait for an initial appointment. Due to staff shortages, PTSD is almost solely treated with antidepressants rather than counseling. It’s not hard to imagine how frustrated and betrayed a young veteran might feel when faced with such backlogs and bureaucracy.

Compared to their civilian counterparts:

• veterans have a greater incidence of heavy drinking and drug use (often considered a form of self-medication);[3]

• a disproportionate number end up in prison (40% of those imprisoned are there because of illicit drug violations);[4]

• veterans are 2 to 3 times more likely to engage in domestic violence;[5]

• US veterans account for nearly one fourth of the nation’s homeless population;[6]

• and as they transition back to civilian life, Iraq and Afghanistan vets confront higher levels of unemployment.[7]

Alarmingly, Army Times reports that thirty Iraqi and Afghanistan vets attempt suicide each day. Eighteen succeed. [8]

Honoring the warrior’s spirit

On a day-to-day basis, most of us conduct ourselves as though we were not at war with two countries. Ilona Meager points out in her book, Moving A Nation to Care, “…those on the home front have not been asked to do anything out of ordinary, or give up anything extraordinary for our soldiers in battle…” This Memorial Day, let’s follow the initiative of those Civil War widows and mothers and share in society’s enormous burden of war. Beyond solemn ceremonies at cemeteries, sharing the burden means keeping informed about the circumstances and consequences of current wars. We share the burden when we remember the vision of a fair and just world—a vision that compels a young man like my husband to go off to war. How can we best honor the war dead? By living honorable lives. On Memorial Day—and every day—may we each strive to do so.

Linda Seebeth is the author of An Introduction to War: the Journey of a Medic’s Heart. She and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest.

View the original article at Veterans Today

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