What to say on Veterans Day…

Today is Veterans Day in the United States. Many people, including Pastor Freed in his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, wonder about the best way to say thank you to veterans for their service. Certainly, uttering the simple phrase, “thank you for your service”, is always appropriate and appreciated; however, what many stories in the news have pointed out lately is the need for the country to recognize the unintended consequences of sending its young men off to hostile environments in foreign lands. A recent story on a newscast stated that more veterans of the Gulf Wars have died by suicide, due to PTSD, than those who died in actual combat situations. Perhaps we need to add to the end of our message of thanks, “How can I help you?”

I am a Viet Nam veteran, not just of the era, but of actual service in Viet Nam. There were certainly the same kinds of stress in that war, but we had yet to invent the term PTSD for those returning from service there with indelible scars on their psyche. In fact, the public sentiment against the war was so strong that returning soldiers were not celebrated, they were reviled. People were as likely to spit on a returning soldier from Viet Nam as to praise them for their service. Returning soldiers were encouraged to keep their problems to themselves.

What we now call PTSD was not the only health issue (mental or physical) to come out of that war. It wasn’t until years later that the government even acknowledged that the defoliant “Agent Orange” that they sprayed on everything and everyone on the ground from the air is a highly toxic health hazard to those who served in country. The combination of serious health issues and PTSD has taken a huge toll on the warriors of that war, too.

We have also seen the specter of PTSD within the ranks of our First Responders, especially following 9/11 and other horrific events. During the current pandemic awareness has increased of the PTSD environment created within the healthcare workforce as hospital staffs struggled with the overload of patients and the number of people who have died while in their care. We now have national holidays to say “thank you for your service” for those on the healthcare front lines, too.

Saying thank you to all of those who served is good and appreciated; however, what is really needed is a bigger effort to recognize and treat the PTSD cases that can come out of all of these instances of service. It needs to be a more pro-active effort. Waiting for those impacted by PTSD to come forward and admit that they need help is often too little, too late. As a society, we must also make changes to how we view the people who are affected by PTSD. It should not be viewed as a stigma, but with empathy and a willingness to help through counseling and other programs.

Perhaps in the future we will send our young warriors off to fight accompanied by counselors equipped to identify and treat the effects pf PTSD in real time. Even better would be to find a way to live in world harmony, so that we do not need to send soldiers to war. We don’t go around on this day saying “Happy Veterans Day”; but, for now, let’s at least say “thank you for your service” and maybe “how can I help you.” Then encourage your congressional representatives to enact laws that do more and sooner to deal with PTSD.

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