I intended for my first blog post to be about the new blog. But Monday is Veteran’s Day, an important day to me. The main theme of my blog is peace, and for too many veterans and their families, there is no peace; not when the fighting stops, not ever.

Eighteen veterans commit suicide each day in the United States. A staggering number for a population that was promised that they would “be all that you can be,” that they were “the few and the proud,” and that they would get an education and career, see the world, etc. Seems like such a group would be anything but suicidal, doesn’t it… yet eighteen per day choose to escape their pain by taking their own lives.

I can’t imagine the disillusionment they must feel. They enlist in the hopes of having a better life, then find out what war REALLY looks like, and I’m sure they must question why, in the big scheme of things, taking the lives of fellow human beings is going to make us a better country, or somehow freer.

Then they come home, many of them psychologically and/or physically wounded. And to what? Broken marriages and families, very little governmental or societal support, even foreclosed homes. A recent statistic shows 25% of them have serious PTSD; it is believed that this is a low number, because the culture of the military does not encourage people to reach out and ask for professional help.

Ask a vet who has suffered from the effects of Agent Orange how long it took the government to stop sweeping it under the rug. Victims were pooh-poohed, reports were suppressed, and every effort was made to avoid accountability for what they were suffering. We have seen a repeat with Desert Storm vets; what a sad irony that our own chemical weapons are killing our own soldiers. We seem to have plenty of money to kill and maim people, yet our veteran’s services providers continue to work in shabby little back offices on a shoestring budget. It is our national shame
.

Since only 2% of the general population is psychotic and actually enjoys killing, it stands to reason that most people don’t enlist so they can leave their loved ones behind and go kill people. There are many reasons people enlist, but it seems a big factor is the “poverty draft,” in which people enlist because they feel they have no other economic option. You don’t see a lot of wealthy people joining the military; that's someone else's job. If legislators and their families were required to do military service, you would see a skyrocket in services to vets.

To be fair, some people build a good career in the military, but even then, there are challenges translating their combat experience into civilian job skills. I recently watched an interview with two combat medics who couldn’t get a nursing job in the civilian world, because they didn’t have the certifications. These are folks who had performed life-saving surgeries and worked triage in the most extreme of circumstances. The fact that our government has not adequately addressed this is another example of not supporting the troops.

As a peace activist, I am often questioned about whether I support our troops, and of course, my patriotism has been questioned. I think often about what it means to “support the troops.” For me, “the troops” includes my grandpa, my dad, the ones currently fighting, and the ones who are now stateside, still fighting their own very real demons, as well as their families. It includes all those enlisted who wish they hadn't, all those who have died, and left behind loved ones who have never been given answers.  I support the troops in the way I would support a wayward child running with a bad crowd. I wish they didn’t make that sad choice to enlist, but I do understand why. I don’t like what they are doing, but I want them to be okay, and will do whatever I can to help. Once the choice is made, they are often changed forever and need all the support they can get. Supporting the troops does not mean supporting war,contrary to popular belief. I’d like to
see our lawmakers start supporting our troops. And how does trying to create peace NOT support the troops?

While Veteran’s Day ceremonies are nice, and make everyone feel good for an hour or so, they don’t do a whole lot for that scruffy homeless guy with an empty stomach who is standing in front of Fred Meyer. Maybe he didn‘t have a ride to the ceremony, or maybe didn‘t want to watch while people waved flags and glorified the war that destroyed his life… who knows. But he served his country too. He is just trying to get through the day. As a community band member, I played patriotic music at many of those events, and I always left feeling empty. It also does NOT support our troops to keep dreaming up more wars to send them to. So how can we support our troops? I have a few ideas:


Bring them home.
Better services and resources for their medical, housing, counseling, and other needs.
Deprogramming and support around learning to reach out for help and assimilate back into their communities after trauma.
Thank them! (and that includes that scruffy, homeless guy in front of Fred Meyer, and not just on Veteran's Day).
End the wars.
Fight to have our bloated military budget (58% of federal discretionary spending) reduced, and those monies re-allocated to programs that help vets and their families, and those in poverty to be self-sufficient without having to enlist.
Talk with them, but also respect their right not to talk about it.
Work for peace, so our military can protect our country here at home, which by the
way, was the intention of our founding fathers.
ASK THEM what they want.
Vote out of office those who do not support bills that support vets.
Sign petitions and stand with vets whose homes are being foreclosed.

These are just my ideas; I'm sure my veteran friends have more.  I don't presume to speak for them.  But I like my list better than just lip service.  What do you think??

Right now in my community, there is a program that is directly helping vets (and their families) who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. For more information or to help, call CARE at 503-842-5261. CARE is also seeking volunteers for their warming center, which gives those living outside a safe, warm place to sleep during inclement weather.

There are Veterans For Peace chapters all over the place, including right here in Tillamook County. You don’t have to be a vet to join and support. Most vets are not beating the war drums, despite what the media may tell you, because they have already lived the horror and know the truth.

My son has a young friend who enlisted, basically due to the poverty draft. I stand peace vigil every Friday night on a street corner in my hometown, and whenever he drives by, he cheers for me and thanks me. I have stood with veterans at peace vigil and they know the truth: that true patriotism is wanting what is best for our country, and working to obtain it, not blindly blasting cannons at every problem at the expense of our young people.

This Veteran’s Day, let’s remember all the vets, honor them in the ways they wish to be honored, and make it a goal to improve the quality of all veterans’ lives by ending the wars.