As Memorial Day approaches, we often see our troops returning home from overseas embracing their families. But another, darker truth is revealed when we later see the same families mourning the loss of their veteran to troop suicide. Though we have a day to remember our brave troops, America has forgotten some of its bravest soldiers. Yet it is up to us, the citizens of this country, to reclaim our soldiers, but how?
Though our veterans return home after honorably serving their tours (many with extended or multiple deployments), 17 percent also return with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans acquire PTSD when war trauma creates intense reactions of fear and guilt. These emotions manifest themselves as nightmares, flashbacks of the war, self-hatred, the sense of being “on guard” and emotional disconnection. These valiant soldiers are merely shadows of their former selves, but shamefully, our government leaves them in the shadows.
Suffice to say, families expect their veterans to be the same person who left, and are devastated to find an individual lost in paranoia, or perhaps staring aimlessly into the television. As these victims of PTSD sit in their darkened living rooms, incapacitated by their mental angst, they cannot feed their families because they are barely compensated by the Veterans Administration. Their families reach out toward their veteran; their veteran feels that no one will understand what they are going through, allowing fear and survivor’s guilt to eat away at them. To end the war within, many of these veterans turn to their only friend in wartime — their gun. They find their peace through suicide.
Yet how do we expect our veterans to reach out for help, when they sometimes come back to an indifferent community. Because of PTSD, our veterans with the disorder are sensitive. These veterans feel like the world is moving on without them. Our veterans with PTSD often believe we do not care about their sacrifice.
Our society revels in the image of the heroic soldier but skims over the emotions of the real human. Sometimes we forget that even though we care about our veterans, our veterans need us to show that we truly love them. Our veterans need to know that they do not have to live up to a certain standard to make us proud.
Therefore, we should not put the hero on a pedestal, but put the human in our hearts. It is our duty to show our veterans that we are grateful for them.
I have seen no other community other than our own that would undertake a duty so sincerely. In this community, one veteran’s suicide is one too many. In this community, one veteran’s impoverished family is one too many. In this community, one veteran sleeping under Interstate 5 is one too many.
And in a way, we welcome these challenges, because it shows us the foundation of this community: we are willing to carry our friends and neighbors through hard times. Our veterans carried us yesterday, so let us carry them today.
There are many organizations that strive to prevent PTSD in our troops that need your help. Our troops are permitted to fly home to relieve their stress, as well as help them deal with the trauma. Operation Hero Miles collects frequent-flier miles to give underprivileged soldiers a chance to fly home free.
The effect of Operation Hero Miles, put simply, is that in order to get rid of the weeds in a garden, you must plant flowers. The average American citizen does not have the power to cure our veterans by trying to medicate them, but we can only plant the seeds of gratitude and love in these veterans suffering from PTSD to show them that America cares. The weeds of guilt and fear cannot grow in an atmosphere of love and care.
When I see veterans come off the plane — free of PTSD — to their families, and see the tearful eyes of our soldiers, I realize the true value of our troops. I can only dream about what our veterans feel then. After all they have sacrificed for our country, they deserve to be with their families. It’s time America shows it cares about its veterans, so please go to www.Heromiles.org and give yourself.
Pavallan S. Mohan, 15, is a Skyview Junior High student.