Veterans’ Day originated in 1919 as “Armistice Day,” a means for honoring veterans of “the war to end all wars” (World War I). As the twentieth century progressed, however, and it became clear that the United States’ position of leadership in the world would require greater military sacrifice, the scope was expanded to include veterans of all wars. There are many worthwhile traditions that have been established over the past 90+ years for honoring those on Veterans’ Day who have sacrificed so much for our common good.
But, this year, I believe, the situation demands more of our time and attention. The media has documented the limits of the Veterans Affairs medical system to meet the needs of our wounded and sick Veterans. And, a “Commander in Chief” forum with Veterans highlighted the growing cost of war and a growing suicide rate among our veterans. Could it be that more Veterans have taken their own life since 2001 than have died in our most recent war?
With that disturbing question in mind, please consider helping our most recent Veterans, especially those who served in combat, by sponsoring an organization focused on helping Veterans who are struggling to reintegrate into day-to-day life.
A friend and classmate of mine from West Point, Major General Dan York, founded an organization that does just that. Dan is a tested leader, an author of eight books, a composer of seven albums and a captivating speaker. I will let him tell you about an important issue facing our Veterans today, and how you can help.
Major General York: One day about four years ago, I received three separate emails in the span of two hours, each announcing in somber print that yet another American soldier had taken his own life. At the time, I was serving as Commanding General of the 104th Training Division, stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord. Overwhelmed after receiving the third email, I laid my head on my desk and wept.
That was the genesis of VetREST, a nonprofit organization I launched with the help of my wife, Kathleen, and several other ordinary Americans committed to making a great difference. Our mission is to provide coaches who will help our nation’s veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) discover the cause of their PTS in order to facilitate healing in a supportive environment.
About a year after receiving those three email suicide notifications, several of us on the VetREST team drove to Idaho to look for property for our retreat center. The first property we looked at belonged to a 70-plus year old owner in remote Benewah County, Idaho. When we explained the purpose of our visit, he softly professed that he, too, had PTS from his time as a Fire Chief in Las Vegas. “I cannot undo the tape [of a deadly hotel fire] that runs in my head every night,” he told us.
Days later, we looked at a home and acreage that overlooked beautiful Lake Coeur d’Alene. I explained to the realtor what VetREST is all about and she began to cry. She shared with us that on Halloween night of the previous year, her brother, a Veteran, had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger, leaving behind a wife, a baby and an extended family overcome with unspeakable grief. At that moment, standing with the realtor looking out over the lake, and also thinking back to that former fire chief from a few days earlier, we realized how important it is to identify and embrace the 5% to 7% of Americans who suffer from PTS.
Statistics reported by the Veterans Administration show that in 2014 an average of 20 Veterans per day took their own lives. We ought to take a deep breath and ask ourselves, “why?” In many cases, the answer to that question is startlingly simple: Fear, moral injury (shame or guilt), trauma caused in the field (IEDs, battle wounds, etc.), or even early childhood abuse, may be the underlying cause of a Veteran’s PTS.
Next, we ought to examine, “what can be done to reverse this unacceptable trend?” Our focus at VetREST is on the clear linkage between those suffering from PTS and suicides. If we can help Veterans suffering from PTS, we believe we can reduce the Veteran suicide rate. While there are 45,000+ nonprofits committed to helping Veterans, only a handful are – like us – committed to coming alongside our suffering soldiers, earning their trust and forming long-term friendships to help work through their PTS.
Healing from PTS is not normally a neat, quick process. Each Veteran’s PTS will vary in severity and complexity. For example, we know that a Veteran who suffered trauma or abuse as a child is typically less resilient than a Veteran with a safe upbringing. However, don’t believe it when someone says a person cannot be cured of PTS. Much can be done to reverse this problem. We owe it to our Veterans to stay committed to helping them find peace from their hidden battles.
To that end, VetREST is seeking to found chapters nationwide that are populated with coaches who are able, after gaining the trust of Veterans, to find the why behind their PTS. Coaches then help the Veterans put in place a four-fold path towards recovery: spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental. PTS does not have to be a hopeless condition.
As you observe Veterans’ Day this year, make sure you call your family or friends who have served. And please consider participating in the Department of Defense’s BeThere Suicide Prevention campaign, or giving to an organization like ours, VetRest, dedicated to helping Veterans on your behalf. Thank you for considering this message of hope, healing and health for our Veterans in need.
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