On this Veterans Day, I once again have to confront the gulf between combat zone military veterans and those who have never served in a combat zone. Being in the military means that you've accepted the status of being willing to sacrifice anything and everything, including your physical and mental health, right up to and including losing your life. You've given your nation a signed blank check and they can write in the amount. For those veterans serving in combat zones, and especially those who actually participated in combat, it's difficult to try to communicate their experiences to those who haven't so served. I've described my experiences here.
On one day per year, we see lots of messages of gratitude to our veterans, and that's nice, but what about the other 364 days? What are we doing to provide help to veterans who have returned from combat and been struggling to cope with their endless nightmares? No one who participated in combat ever returns to become the same person they were before. I was extremely fortunate - it only took me a year or so to return to something close to my former self after leaving the military, but even then, I was forever changed by my military experiences. Some of those changes in my life were positive, and some were negative. I was blessed with good fortune, for no obvious reason. It could have turned out very differently.
I really do value the sentiments expressed by those who offer gratitude for my time in service, but I'm concerned for those veterans who need so much more than words from their nation. Our nation should show their gratitude in their actions as well as mere words, when it comes to our combat veterans. Some of our veterans reach a time when they just can't deal with their devils created by the horrible things they've experienced - too many suicides, broken families, homeless vets, drug addictions, etc. I feel unworthy of gratitude for my time in the military, when I think about those who have suffered so much and been unable to find any peace in their minds. And this says nothing about those who have had life-changing physical injuries to try to overcome.
We ask young people to serve and protect our freedoms, but we sometimes send them to fight in unwinnable wars on foreign soil for no good reason. Vietnam was such a war, and our so-called "war on terrorism" is another example. How do you win a war against a tactic? How do you define what is a "win" in such a war? We had a similar problem in Vietnam - it was a war against an economic and political ideology in a far away land. We never found a meaningful exit strategy in Vietnam, so we just left and all that followed showed that our involvement in Vietnam was pointless. Millions died for nothing. The young men and women serving in combat have to make hard choices about what to do in hostile circumstance and, if they choose incorrectly, we punish them harshly. We're getting better about trying to help veterans with PTSD and such, but we still have a long way to go.
Don't ever thank veterans for their service but then turn around and ask someone else to risk everything without a damned good reason! Don't be so eager to support military actions to back up political positions. Don't send our young men and women into combat and then oppose aid for those who manage to survive. I saw somewhere that about 9,000 Vietnam veterans have committed suicide since they returned - they actually died in Vietnam. I think their names should be added to the wall at the National Vietnam Memorial as combat fatalities. They're not on that wall only because their injuries required more time to take their lives. That raises the Vietnam toll of American combat deaths from 58,000 to 67,000.