From the beginning, I have wanted to expose some of the issues and concerns our service members past and present face. I find it disgraceful the way our military and veterans are portrayed in the media; they are either PTSD-afflicted ticking time bombs or they are homeless wretches, addicted to drugs or alcohol. Occasionally, just occasionally, there is a story of a wounded warrior who has overcome nearly insurmountable odds. Those stories are the ones that bother me the most, not because I think those wounded in war don’t deserve all the accolades and recognition they can get, but because they are too often treated like a side show freak – “Look! Come see the guy with no legs and one arm walk! He even speaks!”
I’ve wanted to write to my community, to remind my neighbors that there is a war, that men and women are dying, not just on the battlefield but also here at home. The number of active duty suicides has surpassed the number of those killed in action, a sentence it makes me sick to write. But not as sick as I am over the apparent apathy of the VA, the military and the civilian community in general when confronted with that fact. What is even more upsetting is that no one knows how many suicides have taken the lives of our veterans. The best estimate is about 6,500 a year or one every 80 minutes. These men have survived battles in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet, yet they can’t survive once they are home, in one of the most affluent countries in the history of mankind. Why is not everyone else as outraged by this as I am?
Then there are the inexplicable cancer deaths. Young, otherwise healthy men and women with no risk factors and no family history are succumbing to some of the most aggressive and unusual cancers ever seen. The one commonality is their exposure to the toxic fumes from the Burn Pits at nearly every U.S. military base around the world. Again, where is the outrage? Because these men and women volunteered, does that mean their deaths don’t count? What about the staggeringly high and rising incidences of birth defects among the children born to these veterans? Do theses children not count either, because their parent voluntarily signed on the dotted line?
Not everything I wanted to write about is doom and gloom, negative and harsh. There are some remarkable people and organizations out there doing incredible things for our military and veterans. There are people who are saving dogs from being euthanized and training them to be companions to our veterans. Others are collecting, packing and shipping care packages to our troops, boxes filled with items donated by thousands of people who support our men and women in harm’s way, who want to remind them that people back home are thinking about them and want to make their service just a little bit easier.
I’ve written about a group of women whom I had the great good fortune to meet. I spent several days with these military wives and mothers and through them learned the meaning of the words resiliency and grace.
Still, for every story I’ve told, there have been ten more equally important ones I’ve yet to tell. In time, perhaps I will but for now I need to take a break from the need to choose just one each week.
When I started this series, I knew I would tell it, the story of the worst day of my life, the day my life changed forever. But, I didn’t want it to be a sob story, to tell the world to feel sorry for me. Yes, my loss is unimaginable, but the real tale is the one that was told to me by those who were there, those who lived it. They are true heroes, each and every one of them and without them, without their support, I know I wouldn’t have had the courage to write this one, or any of the stories I’ve told. It is for them, and for my son that I write. It is for them, and all who have put on our nation’s uniform past and present that I will continue to write. Until they all come home.