Opinion

‘Emotional And Mental Wounds’: Taking Better Care Of Our Returning Soldiers

DailyWire.com

Military and veteran suicide has become an epidemic in our country. In 2017, a year when only 21 soldiers were killed in combat, 318 active-duty soldiers and 6,139 veterans died by suicide.

The military has tried to address this issue by providing a variety of counseling and support resources to soldiers and veterans. Unfortunately, those resources are not taken advantage of as fully as they should be, as soldiers often avoid seeking help for reasons of pride or fear.

Soldiers fear they could lose their security clearances, become non-deployable, look bad to their command or weak to their peers, and ultimately have their reputations affected. Despite those in command positions encouraging soldiers to seek support, many still avoid doing so. And with no required mental health checks, those who need it most may not receive the support they need.

With all the emotions, anxiety, lack of sleep, anger, grief and trauma soldiers experience after returning from war zones, why are there no required counseling and mental health checks to make sure they are mentally and emotionally well?

In police departments across the United States, when one or more officers are involved in a shooting, the mental wellness of every officer present is typically addressed. Officers who are involved in or witness a shooting are put on administrative leave pending counseling. But young men coming home from war zones who experience things such as being shot at, losing friends, having their vehicles blown up, or having to help pick up their injured friend’s body parts, have little time away from duty and no required counseling.

Many people wonder why veteran suicide has become such a big issue. I do not think we should be surprised at all.

We send these men and women into battle and give them all the tools they need to win a war but we give them no tools to survive after they return home. Winning wars is the easy part. The real challenge begins when we allow our men and women to bring the mental and emotional wounds they have sustained from those wars home with them, but give them no tools or time to heal.

Soldiers who need help but fear their careers may be at stake if they seek counseling instead choose to handle the issue on their own. They shove the pain and anger down deep and, when that doesn’t work, they try to numb it. They joke about PTSD and they drink. They joke about being shot and blown up and they drink. They joke about the guy they put a bullet in who nearly got them first and they drink. And they drink.

Then, one day they retire. In the blink of an eye they have gone from living, breathing, and eating military to being a civilian. They are no longer surrounded by those who understand the jokes that keep their pain at bay. Their brothers who check in on them to make sure they are doing okay slowly drift away. They are instead surrounded by people who criticize the wars these veterans fought in and lost friends in because they don’t understand them and did not give up any part of their lives or hearts to fight in. These veterans are surrounded by people but still feel completely alone. And while the world grows slowly quieter and lonelier, their demons grow louder as distance and life separates them from the brotherhood they once knew.

The tape of the moments of on-the-ground fighting to keep their brothers alive is forever running in their mind. They relive the battles in which they lost friends, all of those moments that left them with guilt for surviving, the times they spoke with the families of those killed and wished they had done something different. Wondering again if maybe they could have changed the outcome somehow.

The heartache and suffering builds, causing them to feel separated and detached from every other person in their lives. They don’t have the tools to stop these thoughts and painful memories, so they take whatever actions they see fit to end the pain. And when they die, we pretend they never existed. The military doesn’t honor all of those who die of the emotional and mental wounds inflicted by battle – only those who die from physical wounds.

Those emotional and mental wounds often lead to suicide. We pretend suicide shows dishonor and a problem with the individual, not the system. When a soldier dies of suicide, you will never see his or her name etched into any memorial on base. You won’t see them honored on the National Mall. Their memory is wiped away. Those who die in war have plaques made in their honor, but those who serve alongside them courageously and later die from their survivor’s guilt have their names wiped from the hallowed halls they walked with their brothers in arms.

What are we teaching the soldiers by doing this? It’s clear: shame on you for being human, shame on you for caring, and shame on you for ending your pain while we turned a blind eye to it.

As a country we spend around $700 billion a year on our military. So why is it that we haven’t done more for these men and women coming home from battle? Why don’t we have a better plan? This year we sent billions of dollars to Ukraine. We spend millions a year planning and preparing to deploy every soldier. But we have no effective program to assist those on the front line to recover from the horrors of war before they re-enter society.

We as a nation need to do better. Our men and women on the frontline fighting for our freedom deserve it. It’s time we fight for them.

Michelle Black is a mother of two boys, a Gold Star wife, and author of Sacrifice: The Green Berets, a Fateful Ambush, and a Gold Star Widow’s Fight for the Truth. As the first woman in her family to graduate high school, she attended California Polytechnic State University where she graduated with a degree in environmental sciences and horticulture. She lives in Washington state.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire. 

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