Memorial Day 2009 ... with an addendum
Memorial Day was first enacted to honor the Union soldiers of the Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include American casualties of any war or military action.
On Memorial Day, there may be parades to honor those who went before, and group observances and individual remembrances at veterans' cemeteries and the gravesides of family members.
Memorial Day is a day when we typically remember and honor the dead.
Memorial Day is not a day when we, as a nation, remember the lost who are still among us.
I am not talking about those missing in action (MIA) or prisoners of war (POW) - they should be remembered all the time by us all, not just the families who love and miss them.
I am talking about the vast number of active duty service members and veterans--and their families--who are suffering from the effects of post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
PTSD has suffered badly at the hands of the Department of Defense and the military establishment. Throughout our history of war--Independence, Civil, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam--those who came back deeply scarred by the horrors were treated as though their suffering was caused by an inherent personal weakness, a lack of inner will or strength. After all, everyone didn't come back experiencing the flashbacks, the hypervigilence, the nightmares, the black hole that eats both the outside reality and the soul.
PTSD is a lot like rape: people who suffer it rarely report it. I heard on the news last night that 20 percent of returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD. Given the feelings of shame, and "it must be something wrong with me, because everyone else seems to be okay, so I'll just try to keep it buried", and the general "Suck it up, soldier!" attitude that is still so prevalent, both in the military and, for that matter, in law enforcement (a field where a lot of our vets end up once back in civilian life), the actual number is much, much higher.
PTSD does not go away if ignored. PTSD affects the active duty service member as well as the veteran. PTSD affects the service member's and veteran's family, affects their children, and may ultimately affect the adults those children grow into.
So, on this day when we remember those who died in war or after, of the injuries both physical and otherwise, let us also remember and honor those still among us, especially those who need ongoing support and help.
Let us not just give lip service to the fact of PTSD, but get actively involved in helping those service members, vets, and families who are experiencing the harsh reality of it now, and those who will in the not too distant future when their deployed loved ones return home to them.
Where to start? Here is a list of some of the resources for service members, vets and military families I've compiled over the last couple of years as a volunteer caseworker in the American Red Cross's Service to the Armed Forces unit at my local Red Cross Chapter.
American Legion's Guide to PTSD
The Coming Home Project
Reintegration Action Plan (RAP) - eBook; PDF
Sesame Street: Military Families Cope with Change
V.A. Mental Health Resources
To find local health and mental health resources for service members, vets, and dispersed military families, contact your county's Veterans Service Office, which is often a department within the county's social services or health & human services agency.
Find out more about the American Red Cross's Service to the Armed Forces. To volunteer in SAF, contact your local Red Cross chapter.
Update 5 June 2009: Some articles and new resource I came across today:
VFW chief: Look out for struggling soldiers
The military's war on stigma
The Real Warriors Campaign is an initiative launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) to promote the processes of building resilience, facilitating recovery and supporting reintegration of returning service members, veterans and their families. For Active Duty, National Guard & Reserves, Families, & Health Professionals. Call 24/7: 866-966-1020. They also have a Live Chat available with one of their health resources consultants.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
For crisis intervention, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), Press "1"
MilitaryOneSource also has a 24/7 toll free number and online assistance for actives (including National Guard & Reserves.
And let me just say something about our National Guard and Reservists.... Some of these men and women were in the regular military, during peacetime and wartime and those in between times when we weren't technically at war but there were periods when things got hairy nonetheless. Some of these men and women were never in the regular military, but joined the Army or Air National Guard or Reserves to serve their country when called upon by their state or the feds. Spending much or all of their annual vacation leave from work in training with their unit, not to speak of a weekend a month, all unpaid, away from their families, these individuals sacrificed time and knew that at the state or federal governments could at any time pull them away from their lives and their families...and that they may lose their life when answering that call.
Despite an honorable tradition that dates back to 1636, when the first militia units were formed, and 1906 when the states' militias were organized into the National Guard system, regular military types often have a snarky attitude about the Guards and Reserves, inferring they are toy soldiers, weekend warriors who are sent out to mop up a flood or do some other non-warrior-like thing, which just ain't so.
NG units made up 40% of the fighting force in France during World War I. In WWII, there were 19 NG units activated under Title 10. Over 140,000 NG were mobilized for the Korean War. More recently, Desert Storm utilized 63,000 NG personnel. Some of the "in between" actions found the NG serving peacekeeping missions in such far-flung places as Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
They may be weekend warriors, but they are weekend warriors trained by the Army and Air Force (and, for some of the ex-military members, by the Navy and Marines) and when called up under Title 10, they go to war and do all the things the regular military men and women do. And they suffer the same injuries, physical, emotional and mental, and their families suffer the stresses and strains of long deployments PLUS financial insecurity, as the feds rarely pay as much as their civilian jobs did.
Members of hte National Guard and Reserves and their families deserve no less than the full support and entitlements we give to regular military and vets.