Let me begin this piece by stating that I am elated that the United States Armed Forces are returning home from Iraq. Also, I am somewhat biased when speaking on veterans; I am the proud daughter of a Purple Heart recipient. Please keep this in mind as I speak on a critical problem facing our Armed Forces.
The unpopular War in Iraq, with its dwindling support in recent years, drew many a comparison to Vietnam. The harsh words thrown at these so-called “baby-killers” was in retaliation of a war the American people did not believe in. Many of these soldiers were in need of medical attention; both physically and mentally, to help cope with the horrors of battle. Among every generation of veterans, one will find someone who still tosses and turn through the night, suffers from nightmarish memories and is ready to fight if woken up prematurely.
These occurrences are going to spike as our soldiers come home, and may spill over into the justice system. Not only that, but new statistics are showing that even though the veteran only makes up seven percent of the United States population, they currently make up for one in five suicides. Every one in five. Clearly something is not going right when they go home, or even if they do get treatment in the form of counseling and therapy, it is not working for the long term.
What will it take for Americans to start seriously paying attention to this? Will a backlash be required like the Vietnam veterans faced during the late 1960s and early 1970s? How many of the men and women that we claim to support through slogans and positive words will find themselves feeling as if they have run out of options? It seems to me that this is one of the worst-kept and ill-handled secrets of the War in Iraq.
While everyone is cheering and throwing parades for the returning soldiers, as they should be, they are extremely few people that want to talk about what happens down the line. There should an equal amount of focus and effort on making the lives of our veterans better beyond the ‘welcome home’ honeymoon period. Once the calls, accolades and gifts stop rolling in as often, a veteran may feel as if they are alone in a room full of people.
Getting a solider to talk is hard, but once they do, it is crucial that they continue to talk to someone who actively listens. As much as they may appear to have support, if these well-wishers are not trained or knowledgeable in helping our veterans, they will never truly understand how to make a difference.