Today my son Noah and I went to a forum on veteran issues held at the West Fargo VFW. A local candidate for the U. S. Senate was invited to hear and respond to the veterans’ thoughts, concerns, questions, etc. There were about 25 people in all there with representatives from the local chapters of a number of veteran advocacy groups. At the tender age of 30, Noah was the youngest veteran in the room. Many of the vets that were present were older veterans – 60+. When they told their stories and talked about the struggles they and fellow veterans confronted, I could feel their commitment and quiet resolve to help create change. They were not confrontational or angry or anything less than respectful – but their voices were commanding because they spoke from experience about the realities they have faced.
There were younger vets in the room as well – some from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They represent the new guard in these veteran organizations – they are the youngsters if you will. Their stories may be a little different from the older vets’ stories, but the challenges they face as veterans are similar. The plight of veterans does not change dramatically over time. Indeed, the older vets have suffered with challenges such as PTSD, access to services, frustrating and non-responsive bureaucracies, and a series of broken promises from their government - the same challenges the Iraq/Afghanistan vets are facing.
That’s the part that makes me angry. Ever since I started writing about veteran suicide I have heard from folks who are older vets and career military at the end of their career about how veteran suicide and the factors that play into it are nothing new. They tell me stories that date back decades of neglect and disregard at the hands of the government they served. Every single time I hear one of these stories I get angrier.
Of course I felt compelled to stand up and say something while at the forum today. I was frankly amazed that I stayed silent as long as I did. The topic of veteran suicide (and all the issues interwoven in it) has become such a trigger topic for me that about all it takes is the mention of the military or veterans to set me into a vigorous monolgue on the changes I believe need to occur.
Noah said I sounded like I was emotional about the topic – indeed, I was and continue to be. I am angry that we have not done right by our veterans and ashamed of our country’s ongoing neglect. For the past year I have been saying to anyone who will listen and even those who would rather not - THERE ARE 18 VETERAN SUICIDES A DAY, WE MUST DO SOMETHING TO ADDRESS THIS SITUATION. As such, it wasn’t all that surprising that I would bend a political candidate’s ear in such a forum and make it clear that my expectation for change in the Veteran’s Administration starts with clear, directed action from my elected representatives in Washington.
I met a lot of vets at the forum that I hope to work with in the future – folks that have served their country nobly and now serve their veteran communities with the same commitment. There are not enough of them though…their voice is muted by their small numbers. Those who have served only comprise one percent of the population, and so many of those who come back are struggling and can’t use their voices to lobby for change. But you can.
You can use your voice to tell elected officials that you expect change – no wait, tell them you DEMAND change. Tell your elected officials that you want them to study the RAND report, Invisible Wounds of War, and the California 9th Circuit Court opinion. Tell them to go to Veteran Suicides – America’s Shame and read the stories of veteran despair and suicides. Tell them to DO SOMETHING! Tell them it isn’t good enough to just tell us that they support veterans and want to allocate more to the V.A.’s budget…tell them to fix the broken system. Tell them that we are done with the pat on the head and placebo answers. Tell them we want the service of these men and women to be recognized, respected, and honored by a system that serves their needs and ensures that they can move forward with their lives.
Yes, I am emotional about this topic. If you are too go to this page and get your elected representatives’ contact information and tell them what you think about the treatment of veterans, the broken V.A. system, and the veteran suicide epidemic. And if you are not sure what to tell them, well you just have them call me and say the word veteran.
Day one thousand and ninety-nine of the new forty – obla di obla da