I just finished an incredibly important book, and hope others will read it.  The book is called, “The Invisible Wounds of War: Coming Home from Iraq and Afghanistan” by Marguerite Guzman Bouvard.  I figured it would be interesting stories about returning veterans, but it was so much more than that.  It was really a call to action for all of us.  

Military spouses and family members, and the vets themselves, will feel validated and heard as their see their lives reflected in the pages of this book.  And it’s a story that needs to be told. 

The first chapter gives a detailed explanation of the timeline, and many of the intricate politics involved, in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  While this is important information, I have to admit I skimmed it and will need to reread it later, because I was anxious to get to the stories of the vets themselves.

One of the many factors in the high rate of veteran suicides (18 per day) is the understandable reluctance of vets to ask for help.  Military culture discourages vets from seeking the help they need, not only by characterizing those who ask for help as “weak” or “failures,” but also by penalizing those who come forward with denial of promotions, even in some cases dishonorable discharge.  Over and over the author heard fear of reprisal from vets who desperately needed life-saving help.  When they finally did ask for help, they were shrugged off, put on long waiting lists, or just handed sleeping pills.  We as a society have a responsibility to challenge the mindset that stigmatizes PTSD, or face even more suicides. 

The book is also a reminder that we have a war going on right now, which many people have managed to tune out.  Military personnel are only 1% of the population (yet 20% of suicides), and they tend to be ignored by the media.  This is seen as a huge betrayal by military families, who are resentful that deaths rarely merit more than a mention on the ticker at the bottom of the TV news.  They are also sick to death of hearing how their loved one “volunteered,” as if that somehow invalidates the suffering and the need for treatment of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, hearing damage from IED’s, etc.  

Prepare to be outraged at the lack of services and support for these people who stepped up to serve their country.  Prepare to be horrified and saddened by their stories, their poetry, and their pain.  Prepare to be deeply touched by the determination of their families to advocate for their loved ones and for all vets.  Most of all, prepare to feel a deep sense of compassion, and a responsibility and commitment to spread the word about these injustices.  The book is filled with resources, and the names and information about many programs which are working innovatively to help our vets.

Every young person who is even remotely considering a military career should read this book, especially young women.  It should be required reading for high school students to help counteract the lies told by recruiters.  They deserve to know what they are really getting into.

Tomorrow I’m reluctantly returning this book to the library, but its words will echo in my mind for a long, long time.  I plan to buy the book, and reference it frequently.  Most of us really want to support vets; this book shows how.  It claims to be neither anti-war nor pro-war, but any logical person with an open mind could not be pro-war after reading it.

This song kept running through my mind as I read:

"Hero of War" by Rise Against