Wounded Warrior

Afghanistan photoToday I attended a conference for mental health providers serving our Veterans. This conference focused on the emotional and spiritual cost of war. With soldiers returning from multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan we find that many of our veteran’s carry wounds that may be physical but also of the mind, heart and soul. The VA estimates that 31% of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan war suffer from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

How can it be otherwise? Since Sept. 11, 2001 our nation has placed an incredible strain on our men and women in uniform. Many have served multiple deployments in often brutal conditions, while placing a strain on marriages and families. A friend who served as a chaplain in Iraq, speaks of the human cost to families as they struggle to find a new normal for life after the war.

The conference focused on the need to get services to our warriors who deserve our very best effort. A speaker from the Veterans Health Administration (VA) offered these disturbing statistics: Veterans dealing with depression wait on average 8 years before seeking help; those with substance abuse average 22 years before seeking treatment. And, only 50% will seek treatment. Imagine the pain that these wounded warriors carry.

The challenge said the speaker, is for the VA and community partners, secular and religious, to strive to grow the number of those who do seek help and to shorten the time in which they receive services.

The poet William Stafford wrote: “Every war has two losers”. People of good will can debate whether a particular war or any war is justified. But what should never be debated, is our nation’s commitment to honor and take care of our warrior’s (and their families) who have sacrificed so much. They deserve our very best effort.

Running with the Dead

famly cemeteryI recently moved to a new community. Most mornings my ritual is to go for a run. Across the street from my apartment is a cemetery. For the past week I’ve been running on a road winding its way past the grave stones. I’m accompanied by the names of those who have gone before me. Each name with a story of which I know nothing but with whom I feel connected.

I’m reminded of walking as a boy with my parents through a similar cemetery. Each Memorial Day weekend, they would take me to where our ancestors are laid to rest. At each stone we would pause and plant flowers. As we worked the plants into the earth, my Dad or Mom would tell me the story of who was buried under that stone. Each marker served to remind me of the people that I come from. One stone reads: ‘ Moses Harrop 1903 – 1906’. My Dad told me that Moses was the uncle he never knew. All we know is his name and at age three died during an influenza outbreak. My Dad would say: “We remember who we are as we remember the ones to whom we belong.”

Memorial Day is a reminder on both a personal and national level of who we are. As a nation we gather at ceremonies both formal and informal to remember and honor veterans of the military who served our nation. Their stones with their stark date of birth and death, remind us that most often it is the young who pay the ultimate price in war.

This Memorial Day I will join my neighbors and visit the graves of loved ones. I will plant flowers at my Dad’s grave. We will plant our geraniums and tell the story to any who will listen, of those laid to rest. As we do so, we will remember who we are, as we remember the ones to whom we each belong.