Commentary - November 5th, 2013
9:40 am
Mon November 11, 2013

Veteran's Viewpoint

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.

Next Monday, November 11th, is Veterans Day.  Let me tell you about a couple of the things planned for that day.

First of all, the annual ceremony at the Doughboy Statue on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn will begin at 11:00 a.m., and last for a little more than an hour--but more about that in a minute.

On the evening of November 11th, Transition Missoula will sponsor the showing of a 40-minute film entitled “Ground Operations:  Battlefields to Farm Fields.”  It will be shown at the University Theater on the UM campus at 6:00 p.m., with a discussion period to follow.  This film is about a consolidated effort to help veterans transition from war to the field of agricultural; the theory being that working the land is both rewarding and therapeutic.  Soldiers returning form war seek both, and as a veteran and an old farm boy, I can vouch for that.

The movie will be enlightening and informative, and may lead some of the veterans who heed its call to find an outlet for some of the issues that war created for them. 

Admission is free--you should attend!

Now, back to the 11:00 a.m. Veterans Day ceremony on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn:  The main speakers will be Montana’s senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus--whose nephew was killed in Iraq, and Montana’s Lieutenant Governor John Walsh, himself a veteran of that war.

Missoula’s American Legion Post #101 sponsors this event and, as we do each year, we have established a theme for the 2013 Veterans Day ceremony, that theme being “For Those With Wounds That Show No Scars”.  We will be looking at some of the reasons for and, more importantly, some of the things that can and must be done by our government and our citizenry to treat for and even prevent, the level of damage that too often results from the veterans’ exposure to combat.

Our ceremony honors and pays tribute to the veterans’ service and sacrifice, and provides an opportunity for those in attendance to share their personal remembrance of those veterans who are important in their lives, but it will also be a time to talk about and reflect upon the short- and long-term psychological, emotional, and even spiritual damage that is the almost-inevitable result of war upon those sent to fight it.

And war’s unseen damage on veterans ranges in severity among the veteran population, from a slightly diminished capacity to deal with stress or authority or failure, to enduring and even debilitating depression and anxiety.

In its most severe state, these invisible wounds lead to rates of unemployment, incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse, and family breakup that are double among the veteran population compared to their non-veteran contemporaries.

At its most tragic depth, the “wounds that show no scars” lead to a suicide rate among veterans that is so alarmingly high that

I cannot comprehend why our government and countrymen don’t regard it as a social problem as big as any of the others which seem to occupy our attention.

Want some supporting statistics?

Okay!

In 2012, the Defense Department acknowledged that the number of in-service soldier/veterans who took their own lives averaged almost exactly one per day.  That’s right, every day a soldier--most of them veterans of Middle East fighting--chose to end their own lives rather than face the stress they had found when they came back from the war.  Of course, that is only the number acknowledged by the military, and it does not include those who died in a manner that could not officially be termed suicide but may have been, an example being the otherwise unexplainable single car accident.  Neither does this reported number even touch on those who are veterans, no longer part of the military.

And the suicide numbers for the Vietnam veteran community are nothing short of horrible.  58,000 American GIs died in Vietnam combat, yet according to data by respectable sources such as the National Association of Suicidology, at least 70,000 Vietnam veterans died by their own hand since returning from that war--in other words, more Vietnam vets have committed suicide than the number of their buddies who were killed by that war’s enemy.

And now--and this should shock and sadden us all--suicide among Iraq/Afghan veterans is on a par with that statistic among Vietnam veterans.

It’s easy to identify the physical wounds of war, and we all have an obligation to assure treatment for those wounded.  But the war-caused “wounds that show no scars” are as plentiful and much more sinister, and much less easy to identify than the visible, more easily treatable war wounds, and it is our moral and legal obligation to treat and minimize the potential damage of those wounds to the veterans spirit.

At the Post #101 Veterans Day ceremony on the Missoula County Courthouse grounds at 11:00 a.m. on Monday November 11th, we will DEFINITELY be addressing this matter.

Plan to be there.

By the way:  This year we will have warm-up tents set up to ward off the effects of the inclement weather frequently accompanying Veterans Day.

So, I'll see you there on Veterans Day.

Okay?

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.

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