The War Within Part 5: Finding Hope
“Warriors deal with death. They take life away from others. This is normally the role of God. Asking young warriors to take on that role without adequate psychological and spiritual preparation can lead to damaging consequences. It can also lead to killing and the infliction of pain in excess of what is required to accomplish the mission. If warriors are returned home having had better psychological and spiritual preparation, they will integrate into civilian life faster and they and their families will suffer less. But the more blurred the boundary is between the world where they are acting in the role of God and the world where they are acting in an ordinary societal role, the more problematical the reintegration becomes.”
Karl Marlantes, USMC, Vietnam Veteran
Suicide is a symptom of the broader condition of the Veteran population. Our service members volunteer to protect our values and our nation, and in turn, we owe it to serve them when their duty is done. So, what kinds of things can we do? We can help guide our Veterans to discover a post-military path of empowerment. Even though some struggle, ALL Veterans can find hope.
Here are some of my thoughts on how we can help in this process:
Change the Premise For Mental Health Care
Combat impacts the functioning and the physiology of the brain. I spoke about the neurology in Part 2 and described the conflict of the mind in Part 3. For me and all Veterans, the response is both normal and expected. Because we know the mind works this way and understand the neurology behind the science, then why do we wait for service members to self-select receiving mental health care? Why do we rely on a survey to assess their level of behavioral wellness? The frequency, duration, and intensity of stress can alter the functioning of the brain, and therefore, behavioral health evaluations should be part of the core program for combat Veterans, not an elective program.
Mandatory evaluations can assess the level of support necessary along a continuum of programs that includes counseling, group therapy, alternative therapies, and mindfulness. Our systems wait to provide care based on achieving the threshold for the medical definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that constraint excludes too many Veterans from the interventions they require to re-calibrate themselves after military service. Given the conscious and unconscious conflict inherent from participation in war, all Veterans will require some level of assistance. It is only a question of degree. We can answer this question proactively and eliminate the stigma of self-selection by requiring our service members complete these evaluations.
Train the Competencies of Emotional Intelligence
If we need self-awareness to enable the healing process, then why don’t we teach them the competencies of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence enables self-awareness and monitoring of the emotional state for the individual and the team. Emotional intelligence is about optimizing team performance, reducing toxic behaviors in organizations, and – as some studies have shown – providing the resiliency necessary to prevent stress related disorders like PTSD. This skill trains the conscious mind to become more aware of the unconscious, emotional impulses that occur beneath the surface of our awareness. It provides the conduit for the humility necessary to help re-calibrate the brain after trauma or other related combat stress related conditions.
Implement a Formal Transition Program
If only a small percentage (less than 25%) of Americans qualify for military service, and we put them into the very best military in the history of the world, why has the Veteran population become such a liability? Why are we talking about things like suicide and not talking about how Veterans transform our communities as the distinguished leaders in business and across our society? Transition from military service is not a task or a checklist, it is a transformative process of renewal. It needs to include a program of initiation that educates the service member on the process – the Hero’s Journey to discover their post-military path.The weak link in the chain is the transition process. We need a Reverse Boot Camp.
The Reverse Boot Camp should have continuity between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs. We need a program of initiation to begin the process and it should culminate with the new role the Veteran has in their post-military life. We ask service members to leave the familiarity of their military installation and ask them to navigate an entirely new bureaucracy in the Department of Veteran Affairs on their own. Why are we surprised when they become frustrated and opt-out of valuable programs that could help them? We need to better set them up for success.
For Veterans: Share Your Story
One of the most therapeutic activities I had after my panic attacks was the simple act of communication. By expressing what is deep inside has helped me master my issues. I am fairly confident that if you start to talk to a fellow Veteran about your experiences you will discover that you are not alone. I am not proud of everything I have done through the deployments, none of us will be, but I have learned to forgive myself. I have gained a deeper understanding. If you told me that I would have this level of control over my anxiety 5 years ago, I would have never believed you – but this is where I am today, and you can overcome too.
For Loved Ones: Connect
If your son, wife, husband, or friend is “different,” I would encourage you to connect with us, and we can help both you and them. Know that different can lead to better. I would encourage you to connect with Veterans in their trusted circle. Their brothers and sisters from their unit are closer to these issues than you are, and therefore, they are the best asset you have to help them discover hope. Understand that they are not broken. Allow me to give you hope by telling you that beyond these struggles, your friend or loved one can grow and become a better version of themselves.
If you are or know of a Veteran who is struggling, I wanted to share this series with you to offer you encouragement and hope. I wanted to help you understand. I know it is difficult because it was for me. Our organization is working on a White Paper, petition, and legislation for the Reverse Boot Camp. We are committed to solving the problem of military related suicide, because we believe we can accomplish this goal. We are more than an awareness campaign, and we need your help. We need you to be active in this campaign to help us implement real change. Our military protects us, and together, we can help each of them achieve the post-military life they deserve!
This is Part Five of a Five Part Series entitled The War Within. The objective of this series of blogs is to increase service member, veteran, and family member understanding of how the warrior journey impacts their lives and the potential to heal and grow through the experience. We are here for you. If you require assistance (click here) or someone you love requires assistance (click here) please connect with us today. Stop Soldier Suicide is a non-profit organization committed to ending the problem of military related suicide, and we rely entirely on the generosity of individuals to fund our operations and advocacy efforts to improve the military to civilian transition process. If you would like to offer a donation, please click here.