When I began writing today I had a completely different topic on my mind. The more I thought about things the more I began heading in a different direction. In the past two days I have been fortunate enough to have had some great conversations with several veterans, two stories stand out to me at this moment. Brought to my attention was the thoughts and desires of two generations of veterans. I hope to compare and contrast these two perspectives.
Firstly, according to the 2016 Department of Veteran Affairs research the largest group of veterans dying by suicide are those non-combat and peacetime veterans who served without incident and continued on with life as normal. Secondly, the fastest growing group of veterans dying by suicide are the younger generation of veterans who spent the majority of their service with deployment on their minds.
So, how are these groups different and how are they the same?
Let's look at the differences. Non-combat and peacetime veterans served their country in a very real way and dedicated a part of their lives to our country. However, they were left lacking. Their thoughts prior to joining were on Vietnam, Beirut, or Grenada. Yet, due to timing their service was largely focused on preparing for conflict, training for conflict, and maintaining a combat mindset only to not be called upon by the country they swore to defend. In many cases, the military was called into action shortly before or shortly after these veterans' service. These moments have now shown to have produced thoughts and ideas of being "less than", thoughts of "what would I have done", or "how would I hold up in combat", and "I could be a hero if given a chance"! These thoughts are wholly misplaced and unnecessary, of' course, yet they creep in and can take over one's mind.
Contrast that to the younger veteran generation that joined with thoughts of the Gulf War, 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Watching the news the same way the previous generation did, only this time the conflict continues and deployment is more of a when question than an if. These veterans realized quickly that service for them would mean conflict, deployments, and combat, or the support of these actions. The younger generation has been measured by "how many deployments" not if they deployed, what medals have you received and for what. Often, these veterans would address one another by perusing the others' chests for medals and sleeves and collars for rank. After service, the younger veteran desires to maintain their persona and prowess. They also find a vast sea of organizations aimed at assisting them through a plethora of activities and support. These organizations are a good thing, a great thing, yet do you see the contrast?
The previous generations were not accepted as readily nor given as much support. We have turned a corner, yes, yet I hear many commentaries from the media, politicians, and in everyday conversation concerning the new "wounded service member", "special operator", "foreign war", or "special assignment" organization designed to support veterans. Which veterans? If I'm hearing these exclusions, what do we believe the non-combat or peacetime veteran hears? The American Legion realized this delta and stepped up to lobby and fight for greater designation and inclusion of most, if not all, living veterans today. But there is well over thirty million of us. Is this enough? Do all veterans feel appreciated and supported?
Here's my thoughts. All lives matter! All veterans matter! If you are reading this, you matter! We veterans, as a demographic of society, as a group are the only ones that can truly understand the life, thoughts, experiences, and feelings of veterans. So what do we do about it? We do what we were trained to do. We get up and support each other. We gather together and listen when the other speaks. We all have a story and our stories create a tapestry that, when woven together, is our great nation. We have a history of fighting for right and conscience and freedom. Unfortunately, we also have a history of "get it done" attitudes and measuring each other on things such as prowess and motivation and loyalty. When another veteran turns to us and opens up, do we listen, or do we measure their experience against our own?
Stop telling veterans you don't believe them or to "suck it up"! Let's get real, you're not as great as you think either. There's always someone better. What does that have to do with anything? Let our brothers vent, let them complain, let them get it out. Maybe the next veteran needing an ear will be you!