Before this day is out 22 veterans will have committed suicide. By Christmas 6,500 veterans will have taken their life this year alone. Sadly, a recent VA study says this number may be much higher; they don't count those vets who froze to death under a highway bridge, or on a park bench.
These deaths are so very hard to understand for those who've never served in a war zone. The only civilian equivalent that I can think of is for you to imagine you enter the gates of Disneyland and immediately begin sidestepping concussion bombs on Walt Disney Way, or having a sniper firing at you from Frontierland.
But, it gets even worse than being exposed to danger....it is the toll taken for a soldier's own role in the violence of war. Too many times the damage isn't recognized until that soldier comes home and tries to integrate back into society.
An excerpt from one soldier's suicide note:
I am sorry that it has come to this.
The fact is, for as long as I can remember my motivation for getting up every day has been so that you would not have to bury me. As things have continued to get worse, it has become clear that this alone is not a sufficient reason to carry on. The fact is, I am not getting better, I am not going to get better, and I will most certainly deteriorate further as time goes on. From a logical standpoint, it is better to simply end things quickly and let any repercussions from that play out in the short term than to drag things out into the long term.
You will perhaps be sad for a time, but over time you will forget and begin to carry on. Far better that than to inflict my growing misery upon you for years and decades to come, dragging you down with me. It is because I love you that I can not do this to you. You will come to see that it is a far better thing as one day after another passes during which you do not have to worry about me or even give me a second thought. You will find that your world is better without me in it.
I really have been trying to hang on, for more than a decade now. Each day has been a testament to the extent to which I cared, suffering unspeakable horror as quietly as possible so that you could feel as though I was still here for you. In truth, I was nothing more than a prop, filling space so that my absence would not be noted. In truth, I have already been absent for a long, long time.
My body has become nothing but a cage, a source of pain and constant problems. The illness I have has caused me pain that not even the strongest medicines could dull, and there is no cure. All day, every day a screaming agony in every nerve ending in my body. It is nothing short of torture. My mind is a wasteland, filled with visions of incredible horror, unceasing depression, and crippling anxiety, even with all of the medications the doctors dare give. Simple things that everyone else takes for granted are nearly impossible for me. I can not laugh or cry. I can barely leave the house. I derive no pleasure from any activity. Everything simply comes down to passing time until I can sleep again. Now, to sleep forever seems to be the most merciful thing.
Sadly, our politicos, and the numbers crunchers can break down the costs of a thousand tanks, a million rounds of ammunition...and even how many "meals, ready to eat" will be needed this year in Afghanistan. And they can tote up the costs of combat pay, and even project how many artificial limbs will be needed next year. But all those number crunchers simply cannot comprehend the costs of war to the human psyche.
So, as we pause today to honor our veterans, let us stop to think about the "real" burden the veteran carries each and every day. If you run into a vet today thank him for his service. But let us also understand that the war doesn't end when a veteran comes home.
The recent VA scandal brought home just how badly our vets are neglected. As the news emerged Americans were rightly outraged. And that national outrage spurred our Commander In Chief and Congress to allocate more funds towards veterans care, and reform of the VA system.
And yet, as we always do, as soon as the outrage dies down, the veteran is soon again given the short end of the stick. Case in point; President Obama, in his recent budget, cut $4 billion dollars from the VA budget.....the savings to be used to provide benefits to tens of thousand Muslim immigrants fleeing the Middle East.
Our politicians will never face up to the real costs of war. Let's hope we, the American people do...and not let our politicians sweep the veteran's plight under the rug.
A not so happy Veterans Day.