In response to our blog about the New York Times Article, “How We Treat Our Troops,” many people have asked me,
It’s taken me a while to be able to clearly answer that question. I think it’s because, it’s the wrong question to ask.
Veterans do not need to be saved. Veterans are not kittens stuck in a tree, or old sports cards you want to look at from time to time for nostalgia’s sake. To be a veteran, one has already got through the majority of scenarios in life where one may have needed to save or be saved.
Right now though, our country is saving veterans. We stack them up like old baseball cards. Some, for one reason or another move on to be very successful members of society, others do not, and like old baseball cards, we’re not overly concerned about the cheap ones and what happens to them. What’s more, veterans make up less than 2% of the population, which when combined with the active, reserve, and National Guard military populations, make up less than 5% of the population. More people probably own baseball cards than know veterans. Either way, they’re both likely to be stuck in the literal or figurative closet at your Mom’s house.
The United States pays approximately 51% of its annual budget, $685.1 billion, on the military, in a sense to buy new packs of baseball cards, your baseball cards. When they get a bent corner, however, and are no longer good for trading, they get shipped back to the United States either to be saved, or dumped back into society.
The evidence of the failure of the system is startling, 18 veterans a day are committing suicide. However, with so few direct connections to veterans, despite the fact that this casualty rate creates a repeat of the 9/11/01 death rate of close to 3000 happening just over twice every year, society will only notice it from time to time. You may be drawn to action, but rarely sustained action, because it just does not seem to affect you. Maybe you will mention it almost as often as you mention the time you found out your Mom threw away your old baseball cards.
Wistfully, you’ll look down, say something in honor of the veteran you once knew, or kind of knew, or maybe knew, or maybe you’ll thank a veteran for his or her service when you pass them in the airport, put a yellow ribbon sticker on the back of your car, buy them a meal on Veterans Day and then you’ll move on.
Veterans though, despite there small numbers in the population are far beyond statistics, and what’s more, they can do more for our country than a baseball card, and dare I say it, a baseball player, though we’d love to have a baseball player, or any professional athlete, donate to our cause. Maybe even a team owner? Get in touch if you know anyone interested.
This is a complex question, but for now I will give it a simple answer: Its not working because it’s addressing the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself.
Reintegration. Society has asked a warrior class be created for their defense, sent their men and women to that warrior class, and then placed the burden of reintegration on the shoulders of the veteran, and we’re trying hard, but society needs to own up to its responsibility for its warriors and veterans. Just like we were your warriors, we are also now, your veterans. You’ve got a job to do.
Don’t save us, instead help us create more and more opportunities for veterans to be warriors, to overcome the boredom, frustration, isolation, and seemingly unfocussed, poorly prioritized society we return to when we come home from war and our time in uniform. The society we left to become warriors, does not seem to be the society we returned to: we miss the camaraderie of service, the excitement of war, and the struggle for daily survival.
We get instead the individual quest for the bottom line, the boredom of business parks, shopping malls, long commutes, and the struggle to contain ourselves when people chatter endlessly about pop stars love affairs and drug addictions as our soldiers are being killed thousands of miles away.
Help us to create opportunities where together, we as veterans can feel and find our own self worth, our own creativity, and our strengths and contributions to society, to be able to move forward with our own lives. Help us create support groups of like minded individuals and veterans who want to get out into the outdoors with us when we’re ready, to be part of our team, in an environment free from any agenda but to connect, to challenge, and to seek a mountain top, a river run, a fish caught, and a camp fire made.