- Posted November 3, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Veterans in focus
Service to his country cost my dad a lot- he never really fully recovered from the psychological wounds he suffered in combat. Today it is a little easier for a soldier to get treatment for these types of wounds- but many don’t seek treatment due to concerns for advancement, or shame, or the opinion of their peers.
In the1970’s and 80’s I served as Treasurer, Adjutant, Vice Commander, and finally Post Commander of American Legion Post 14, Ashland Oregon. I lost high school buddies taken by the Vietnam war, and I lost several friends and Post members to suicide.
They were never able to reconcile themselves with something they did in the war- they just couldn’t find some way to cope with it and receive peace. Good men. Kind, gentle, strong men. But men without the training, skills, and experience to deal with the terrible reality of the memories of war.
But it is thanks to those veterans that we now have tools to help everyone with their Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders. It wasn’t until Vietnam that we finally put a name on the disease and first started to treat those soldiers exposed to life-threating events- events that screwed with their view of life, themselves, and death.
Military medicine finally confronted “battle fatigue “ and “shell shock” by defining the condition- A behavioral disorder that is directly linked to a traumatic experience. This is one of the foundations of modern psychotherapy.
One of my dad’s traumatic experiences was at Anzio, a beach in Italy that cost many American lives while we were stalled on the beachhead. His buddy’s head was blown off by shrapnel- while telling my dad about what he was going to do back home after the war. I’m not sure my dad told anyone else but me about this. And that was a big mistake.
It profoundly affected my dad. His motto became “Don’t count on tomorrow.” He lived it- we didn’t put things off around our house, and we were very here and now. Too here and now, I realized much later, because he didn’t want to plan for tomorrow. And you didn’t want to come up behind him and surprise him, because he was “jumpy” that way. And you didn’t want to threaten him or our family unless you wanted to see a man instantly explode and try to tear you apart. The alcohol finally took everything from him, including his life.
Now we understand that these types of experiences happen beyond the context of war. They involve the family, a lot. Children are terribly confused and frightened by parents, sometimes without the parents understanding the consequences of their actions.
Other times it’s because the parents are bad and the kid can’t handle that. Dad beating mom, mom trashing dad, and then there’s the “nice” uncle or the “cougar” aunt distorting the beauty of sexuality in the inexperienced, trusting child.
Now, thanks to veterans, all people can be helped by psychotherapists trained in helping people cope with traumatic experience. Not just war experience, but “life in the world” experience.
Coping is about the best you can do. We cannot un-live our experiences but we can better understand our behavior and find ways to change our habits and misbehaviors that result from our reaction to them.
We also know that family is the most important aspect of the soldier’s return to home. Without good family support and peer support the veteran is at the mercy of the system. A system that is trying, but is overwhelmed by the needs presented by men who have seen three, four, or five tours in war zones.
As every veteran knows, “Family Comes First” is a reason to go to war, and come home from it. And it’s that way around the world- my boss, a Muslim from Pakistan, believes in it so strongly that I could abuse my privilege and he would never question it. He always says it, earnestly, with full conviction, “Family comes first.” We all feel that way.
Our song “They Can’t Take My Heart” gets to Ponderosa Breeze’s view- “Family Comes First.” Please play it, and if you like, share it with others. The Video is on YouTube as They Can't Take My Heart-Veterans Day 2012