As Veterans’ Day approaches, many shrug. They should not. A single combat veteran knows more about what freedom is, what it costs, what we owe, what this nation is about – than the 93 percent who have never served. On this day, stop – and think.
Many false narratives exist about veterans. So, let’s clear a few up, this Veterans’ Week.
First, because combat veterans confront enormous uncertainty, danger, and violence on a daily basis for extended periods of time, a choice they made to protect others, many encounter trauma, which can become a source of post-traumatic stress or PTS.
Like civilians who encounter life-and-death trauma and later PTS, many veterans find ways to resolve PTS from combat. Ways vary, as do causes. Resolution or management can come from compassion on the part of friends and family, intense redirection of purpose, refocus on the events, exercise, counseling, medication, and other means. Not all who first have PTS confront it daily over time.
Numbers matter and are often forgotten. Six in ten men face trauma in their lives, half of all women. That is independent of military service. Roughly six percent of the US population, civilian and former military, face a version of PTS. Among military personnel, between 11 and 20 percent face PTS.
Put differently, we are a nation under enormous stress, because we are engaged, take risks, often for others. Veterans take outsized risks for others, to protect the rest of us, this nation, people and ideals.
That said, somewhere between nine-in-ten, or four-in-five, veterans do not have PTS, or resolve it. That is important, because veterans are often tagged as afflicted, unable to resolve it, or unaware of it. That is not true. Most do not have PTS, most of those who do find ways to resolve or manage it.
Second – and this is the flip side – many veterans do have PTS, more than in the civilian population, just as many learn to live with a missing limb, permanent wound, disability, or personal memories others do not have to bear. This does not mean they do not learn to manage the reality, only that they suffer it.
This was true in all wars, based on the historical record. Those with the courage to fight for others must often summon a level and depth of courage they did not anticipate – to sustain themselves over time. The need to manage what war did to their peace, memories, guilt, fear, uncertainty, awareness of evil, loss, and opportunity cost are all part of it.
Third, some face this kind of battle daily, nightly, along with what might be called continuing loss, often in the form of lost peace, sleep, family, friends, time, job, and self-value. These veterans are fighting for us still – because what they encountered “over there” is here, and what they did for us, they carry.
This is where love is most needed, not in some passing, superficial, glad-you-served, thank-you-for-your-service way, but in ways that count – making sure those around us who suffer know they are very much valued, their lives count, their reality is of such importance to us that we will help them through, help them really “come home” with whatever we can offer.
More to the point, we need to stop, make veterans a priority, be clear we are not “fair weather” friends, not “hail-and-farewell” friends, but able and willing to be counted on. Why? Because they made us their life’s priority. They were not “fair weather” friends, stepped up to protect us.
Simple stuff, but so often forgotten in the hubbub. While most veterans adjust and reintegrate well into civilian life – bringing unique skills – some need an assist. Have you ever needed help, really needed it, been paralyzed by events, brought to despair, felt guilt, depression, indifference, or just knew others were not going through what you were, that you needed to adjust?
In the end, several things – this week – deserve pausing on. Veterans do not ask for a lifetime of suffering but know that is possible. They sign up for lots of reasons, but at some point they all understand, accept, assume the high purpose, knowing they are in this for others, may pay dearly.
They know America is different, our culture, love of liberty, enthusiasms, and resilience – all part of a world they hope to rejoin. America is genuinely different, a nation of people who – more than not – understand, sometimes in our bones, we are lucky. They know that too – which is one reason they sign up to fight.
Most of all – making the argument every day is Veterans’ Day – they trust us. They trust their service will be understood by other Americans, as much as by other vets and a merciful God. They trust that what they do and did is worth the price they paid and continue to pay.
Here is the final point, which should resonate this week, this Veterans’ Day, and on all days: They trust the decisions they made, what they did, risks they took, crosses they bear – being who they are – is something you will stop to understand about them, respect in them, and not forget.
Most of all, they want you to honor the country they signed up to protect, now and always – because they do, always will. This Veterans’ Day, you do not need to do more than honor them. They honored you, and the open secret is, they still do.
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