Our Veterans Deserve More Than This


Today is Veterans’ Day.  Today we honor the men and women of our Armed Services, those who keep us safe and voluntarily lay down their lives to protect us and others around the world.  There has been a small amount of attention paid lately to the suicide rate among veterans, and while some may disagree, I think that we are undervaluing the lives of those veterans if we talk only about their military service and avoid talk of the lingering trauma that they carry with them when that service has ended.

Our veterans kill themselves at least two times as often as civilians do, and that number is underreported (like overall suicide rates) because families can pressure coroners to list another cause of death if they fear the stigma of mental illness.  There are also states (including large ones like California and Texas) that don’t report information on veteran suicides; and suicides that are not counted as such because they are things like single-car accidents or drug overdoses, manners of death that are open to interpretation if there is no note.  That’s not taking into account homeless veterans, who are often completely left out of reporting.

If we focus on flags and anthems and uniforms and glory today, we need also to think about war and violence, and the trauma suffered by the people who see it.  If you’ve never experienced it, it’s easy to dismiss something like post-traumatic stress as a myth or a question of mind over matter.  It’s not that easy, though.  I am on medication for PTSD right now, because it helps me sleep without the horrible, violent nightmares I was having after Tony died.  I cannot imagine the nightmares that must haunt the dreams of those who have seen combat.  Who have killed.  Who have seen their friends die in front of them, who have seen up close what war really is, and what it does.

Marching bands and flags are an important part of Veterans’ Day; but I hope that when you pause today to honor our veterans you will take a moment to think about the fact that when the military battles are over, many of them continue to fight battles that are unseen, unreported and often fatal.  That is a kind of heroism that is rarely celebrated, but requires a level of courage that must be recognized.  Our veterans deserve better than a celebration of their service that fails to acknowledge that the war, for many of them, rages within without ceasing.


4 thoughts on “Our Veterans Deserve More Than This

  1. I completely agree. Their service and pain goes far beyond their time in the military. The memories of their situations haunt many of them and so little attention is given to them for this. People don’t consider the after effects of such a sacrifice. They should be honored much more for what they’ve done, than they normally are. Excellent post and reminder to truly appreciate those who have risked their lives for us.

  2. Thank you for talking about this. I spent several years in the army and there was no such thing as mental health care back then, 16 years ago. I don’t know if the service was a contributing factor to my mental illness but we need to pay attention to it regardless.

    • Hi Tubaville, thank you for reading and commenting. I agree. I think a lot of people want to think of mental illness as something ethereal that just happens and can’t be prevented or cured. It’s not — all mental illnesses are diseases of the brain and should be treated that way.

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