While Sir JJ Witmeyer & I were changing planes in Dallas on Sunday, he was approached by a Vietnam Veteran. After he walked away, JJ said to me, “You can still the see PTSD in his eyes.” That kind of clicked things in to place for me after my week at the Military Order of the Purple Heart Convention. During the week, I ended up having many one on one conversations with heroes. Not sure if it was me, the atmosphere of camaraderie, or a combination of both, but it was a gift I received. For brief periods of time, I was a visitor into someone’s mind, got a glimpse of their experiences and it gave me an intimate connection to each one of them. Whether a story of humor, of a fallen brother in arms, of their injuries or their personal struggles, there was something common in all of them – their eyes. When just speaking to a hero about the weather, you would not see it. But, the minute they share one of these experiences, something in their head goes off and their pain, their burden, their memory can be seen in their eyes. I like to make eye contact with people, even if sometimes awkward to them. But I saw it, I saw what JJ was referring to and it didn’t make complete sense until he said it. Whether it was someone talking about WWII, Vietnam, Korea, or current conflicts, all the men I spoke with this past week, bear a weight so heavy that I felt it for a brief moment in time and wished I could pull it away from them.
One handsome man, told me that he just left a 9 week PTSD program to face issues from his service from 1968-1969. He let me in and again, his eyes showed it. Another man told me how he can’t stop helping Veterans and does it 7 days a week. He is not comfortable being alone and doing fun things for himself as he struggles with his wartime experiences. The hero told me he was spit on twice when he returned home, showed his experience in his eyes. Even JJ’s eyes changed when sharing his war stories.
A Veteran’s counselor I met last week told me that what is happening that when some of the Veterans slow down, they become overcome with the thoughts they had not had time to deal with due to family and career. Some have dealt with their issues through substance abuse or suicide (it is estimated there are 16,000 suicides from Vietnam Vets) and some suppress it. Then of course there are the Veterans fresh from war and they too are struggling with things in their head. I kept reflecting on how different the wars were; the times, the enemy, the technology and communication. The fact that they all faced war is the underlying commonality. The experiences of a WWII Veteran to an OIF/OEF Veteran are so different, but they are also the same.
I am not by any means saying that every person who goes to war experiences PTSD, that PTSD is incurable, that I even think we should call PTSD (I hate the D). I have no counseling training, but believe any person who experiences something that made them grow up fast, experienced something another can’t fathom, is just having a normal response to that situation. These heroes saw something, experienced something that changed their lives and sometimes right away, sometimes later, these memories can interfere.
I get lots of emails asking me if I think war will change their spouse or boyfriend and the answer is – yes. Any experience, good or bad, changes someone. The more intense the experience, the greater chance of change. But the weight on some of these heroes is often too heavy. This past week I felt so helpless, like I’m not doing enough, like we aren’t doing enough. Certainly bottling up experiences with guilt can’t be a healthy avenue. For the Veterans who have left the service, we need to reach out to them and let them know counseling is available. For those still serving, offering them confidential counseling is the only way, counseling that won’t go on the their permanent record.
I’ll keep doing my part and reaching out and hopefully we can all work together as a nation to help these Veterans. May no Veteran be left behind!
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
There are two days in every week we should not worry about, two days that should be kept free from fear and apprehension.
One is yesterday, with its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains. Yesterday has passed, forever beyond our control.
All the money in the world cannot bring back yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed. Nor can we erase a single word we’ve said – yesterday is gone.
The other day we shouldn’t worry about is tomorrow, with its impossible adversaries, its burden, its hopeful promise and poor performance. Tomorrow is beyond our control.
Tomorrow’s sun will rise either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds – but it will rise. And until it does, we have no stake in tomorrow, for it is yet unborn.
This leaves only one day – today. Any person can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when we add the burdens of yesterday and tomorrow that we break down.
It is not the experience of today that drives people mad – it is the remorse of bitterness for something that happened yesterday, and the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us, therefore, live one day at a time!
PTSD = Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
OIF = Operation Iraqi Freedom
OEF = Operation Enduring Freedom
c/p at Hooah Wife