Does America Know We are Still at War?
I’m overwhelmed at times by the raw emotions I receive from veterans and their family members after every performance of performing my play "The American Soldier.” Each night, I’m hugging and listening to veterans who still struggling with the visible and invisible scars of war.
Ten years ago I remembered reading in the newspaper the stories of veterans coming back home from Iraq and Afghanistan and dealing with PTSD and suicide. I thought then, how unfair it was for our brave soldiers to be sent off to war and then come home to find themselves struggling financially, and not receiving the support they needed. That was ten years ago, and today, I don’t know if things have gotten much better for our veterans.
Every day, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports an average of 16.8 veterans commits suicide, according to a report released in June. Another 3.8 active-duty service members, guardsmen, and reservists take their own lives per day. And according to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 11-20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan wars veterans suffer from PTSD. An estimated 12 percent of vets from the earlier Gulf War also suffer from the disorder.
One Iraq war veteran told me: “Our burden and daily struggle with the invisible wounds of war and with the physical ones are impossible to erase. We use strategies to cope and try to drive on and live a life of meaning. Don't think we ever entirely heal.”
A Vietnam veteran, said: “Normal life seems silly and pointless. I grow resentful of those who go about their lives indifferent to our experiences and the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters with whom we’ve served.”
It is estimated 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD at some point in their lifetime.
My play The American Soldier is based on letters and accounts from actual soldiers and their family members, my one-man show covers every conflict from the American Revolution to the present-day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I tell stories of the war experiences of 14 characters and their families. And for those who return, the pain, suffering and isolation is remarkably similar from conflict to conflict.
When I listen to the national media coverage, it really makes me mad that the highest level of coverage the military seems to get is a ticker banner at the bottom of the TV screen or a tweet mentioning that we have lost another brave American either in combat— yes, we still have soldiers in battle.
The daily suicides don’t even merit media attention. We as Americans go on with our normal lives without even a passing thought as to what the members of our military and their families are paying for us. Our veterans and their families are still at war, both abroad and home.
While the media is obsessed with President Trump’s latest tweet, our veterans and their very real problems are being ignored. Like veteran suicide, the general well-being of our soldiers, difficulties in getting their GI benefits and of course, how the VA is still not operating and caring for our veterans the way they should be.
As 2018 drew to a close, three US soldiers were killed by a Taliban bombing, and another three soldiers plus an American contractor were wounded. In total, about 14,000 American soldiers still serve in Afghanistan and we have several operations going on in Syria, Yemen, and the African continent.
Our nation has a rover driving around on Mars (yes, on Mars) taking selfies, and yet we can’t fix the VA? This is insane and should infuriate you as an American. We are better than this, and we owe so much more to our servicemen and their families.
Today, less than one percent of the American population is in the military, and that 1% is making huge and sacrifices for all of the rest of us.
I personally feel that the media needs to bring this issue front and center, so that we, as a nation, can begin to solve the issues facing our veterans, and provide them with the support and help they need.
CNN, MSNBC, FOX, please take the lead, and make the problems veterans face —suicide epidemic, P.T.S.D., the GI bill and the VA’s troubles — a national issue. This issue should be the one that unites Republicans and Democrats. It has no race, no color and no religion, it is an American issue.
We are a kind and supportive nation and we love and cherish our citizens, so should we not love, nurture and care for the soldiers and families who have given so much for our freedoms? They have served us with loyalty — one of the values we most admire as Americans. And they have protected the rights that make us the envy of the world. Where is our loyalty to them?
We celebrate and talk about the bravery of WWI and WWII with such great pride and honor. Yet we don’t honor our veterans by helping them with the issues they are facing as a result of their service to us. We celebrate our veterans, but yet we have veterans from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan who are living on the streets or eating out of trash cans.
Our veterans should be carried in our hearts and our souls. Our veterans have served with the utmost integrity and bravery, selflessly putting their lives on the line for us. When we hear the Star Spangled Banner, it is because of the bravery of our soldiers that makes it so special.
How can we continue to ask the future generations to do the same when they see how we treat the veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan the way we do. If we want to stay the greatest country that has ever been created on this God-given earth, we must show the future generation of veterans that if you join the military, we have your back. The names of the wars change, but how they affect the men and women who fight them for us doesn’t. We have a duty to honor our veterans and help them at all costs.
America did not become the land of opportunity and freedom without the sacrifice of many brave soldiers, both men, and women, from every race and religion.
The willingness of soldiers to sacrifice for the greater good cannot be better seen that the letter from Sullivan Ballou, an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. I came across the letter while researching and reading many letters for my play The American Soldier. It was also made famous in the Civil War documentary by Ken Burn. Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife a week before the First Battle of Bull Run, during which he would be mortally wounded. He said:
“If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for any country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American civilization now leans upon the triumph of government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution, and I am willing, perfectly willing to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.”