On October 22nd, 2010, The New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Bob Herbert, wrote an article entitled, “The Way We Treat Our Troops.” At first, I did not want to read it, because I know how we treat our troops. The fact of the matter is we really do not treat them as much as we ignore them. But read it I did, and my indignation raised one or two points higher.
Don’t get me wrong; there are thousands of hard working people working in their own ways and in several great organizations and entities to find answers to the difficult questions posed by our ten years of war in Afghanistan and seven years in Iraq. All of these people and organizations are in the good fight, struggling as to what to do with the men and women who come home, fractured, and broken from the wars, but it is not enough.
The statistics sighted in this article have been cited before, Veterans are two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans, three times the number of Californian veterans are being killed shortly after they return from war than Californian service members who are killed in combat; the existing mental health facilities are overwhelmed, and more troops are not even seeking the help they may need.
We may not save the world at Veterans Expeditions, but we’re doing our damndest to save every veteran we can, and here’s what else we know, our programs, simply getting veterans together in a supported environment away from the rush of every day information, is working to help show veterans that they can have another community, that they can find a deep bonding experience with other veterans outside of their immediate band of brothers and sisters and outside of a combat zone, that they can freely express themselves without fear of judgment, that they can be a valuable member of a team regardless of physical or mental disability, that there is a community that not only wants them, but desperately needs them, and that life can get better following what for some, may be the dark, disorienting days following a return from combat.
For many of us, we’re afraid of forgetting our war time experiences, forgetting the men and women who died next to us, or lived through the event with us, but to quote from one of our climbers, Ian Smith on Summit Day this past 9/11:
Those men that I had shared so much with and lost so much when they died had become pale and distant in my memory. Climbing with this group brought those guys back to a vivid color and brought them back to the forefront of my memory. I found a piece of each of them in each of the members of the group. I felt as if I was walking and talking with them and laughing with them again, if only for a few days. I realized that perhaps this feeling, those brothers from the 101st, were the driving force behind my dedication to the training and my actions and attitudes during the climbs. It was the ethos, our warrior ethos, that drove me to perform well and that perhaps, if I could do a good job, I might come to a little more peace with my lost friends.
I realize that it is a scary time in America for a lot of people, regardless of what side of the political spectrum they may be on, but here’s the thing, none of it matters if we’re letting the men and women who served in our, in your, in my Armed Forces, die in a far and distant land, let alone die in the neighborhoods where we all live.
In the State of Colorado the candidates for the State Treasurer have raised over two million dollars for the campaign race, while our Veteran Service Organizations and the VA scrap for funds. Our priorities are all wrong in our country. Who cares about government or the environment if the people you sent to protect it are dying off at a frightening rate? I’m not saying the State Treasurer is not an important position, it is, and at the risk of sounding overly righteous here, your veterans are more important!
Imagine: our Nation has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into each Soldier, Marine, Airman, Sailor and Coast Guard Sailor. These are highly skilled men and women, with a lot of leadership experience. If we could tap into this skill set in a large way, our nation would be well on its way to economic recovery and reacquiring our place as the world’s true super power, instead, we’re wasting this resource.
You would not walk past half a million dollars on the street, so why walk past a veteran?