Monday, May 26, 2014

More than remembering

15 years ago today my father passed from this life. He was a part of what we call the greatest generation, a veteran of World War II. They came home, they worked hard, they raised families and made sure that we, their children, had education and opportunities they could never dream of.

They other thing they did was suffer in silence. We didn't hear about Post Traumatic Stress, not because they didn't have, they just didn't talk about it. Many like my father self-medicated with the fashionable legal drug, alcohol. No one who worked with him would have known because he never missed a day of work. But from the time he came home in the evening until bedtime the cans of Budweiser were his solution. He was not a loud or violent alcoholic. On the contrary, he hardly spoke, and over the decades only rarely did he speak of the war. Nothing could have prepared him either for what he saw in the war, nor for its lingering effects. Like so many of our veterans his body survived the war, but the psychological, emotional wounds were deep.

Today we pray for the repose of the souls of all those who died in war, but let's not forget those who are quietly suffering and dying inside. Twenty years ago I went to work for the VA and it was broken then. It was another example of our American mixed messages. On the one hand, we love our vets. On the other hand we want to cut taxes and spending.

The moment we sent the first solider into Afghanistan and Iraq we needed to start ramping up the VA system and prepare for the fact that for at least a half century after the end of the war we were going to have a moral obligation to care for the wounded warriors and their families. We can use General Shinseki, himself a decorated vet, as a scapegoat, but that will not fix the problem.

According to a 2013 report 16 vets a day commit suicide. Perhaps this Memorial Day, we should reflect on those lives, and ask ourselves what we as individuals, churches, communities, and as a nation can and must do to truly honor the dignity of the lives of our men and women in uniform.