Thursday, June 23, 2011

War and No Peace

          There is nothing so chilling as a synchronicity that feels like deja vu. A few days ago, on June 16, 2011, I posted this on Facebook as my status message:  

          "Lands far, distant, alien. Loyalty and love of home, family, hope. Collision of reality and dreams? In the heart of a good soldier, the price is always worth the end result: going home. In a box or without limbs or sanity? That's the price they pay for our freedoms. The loss of innocence is something extra. A soldier deserves the love and loyalty of home and family, friends. Most of all, that soldier deserves peace.

          And then, within a couple of days, something happened that illustrated the point.

         We stopped to talk to a relative sitting in a car wash. She was frustrated, and badly. Two family vehicles to clean up, and one bay had no pressure while the other promptly ate their coins. No car wash manager in sight, as usual. In a nearby bay, another family car wash session was going on, and she mentioned that they seemed to be 'camped out' in that bay, preventing anyone else from using it. What she didn't know was that the folks in that bay were our cousins too, and they were all busy working on their vehicles.

          Her man-friend was upset, same as her. He, being a returning veteran of the Iraq situation, was unafraid of anyone. Clearly. What he didn't know was that (a) the family in the busy bay was related to his lady (and to me), and that (b) that the other man he was snapping at so freely was also a veteran, this one with several tours behind him and a lot of brain damage from explosions in addition.

          The veteran in the working wash bay was also unafraid: he cannot feel fear in the conventional sense, and was ordered to maintain anger management classes for, not a few days or weeks, but for two and a half years. The part of his brain that is fight vs. flight is stuck on fight, with no options. He simply told the smaller man, "If you don't like it here, go to the other car wash, buddy."

          Sitting in our old (unwashed) Jeep Cherokee right smack in the middle, we realized that he was as cold as ice, no anger or spite in his voice. Just a solid refusal to budge. As that already runs in the family, this was becoming more serious by the second.

          I explained to my female relative what was going on that she couldn't see. She took her young baby over and talked to our cousin, soothing things over a bit. Meanwhile, the boyfriend was angry at me for apparently taking sides in the issue... and he thought my opinion was wrong. I tried to explain, and quite honestly, I wasn't happy with the behavior of either party, and said as much. (Like I said, a refusal to back up runs in the family. Strongly.) The female relative was shaking, having realized that something approaching World War III had just been barely averted, and it had begun because two veterans with serious anger issues had come, unbeknownst to each of them, head to head.

          Our brain-damaged warrior cousin took his group over to another parking lot to finish, avoiding the conflict nicely. We went around to him and explained. He shook his head, calming down visibly all the while. "They just dump us out." He said. It was clear that his anger had been redirected to a less accessible target: the military medical system in particular. Then he said he'd gladly help the other fellow any way he could. When we left, he was still working on the vehicles with his beloved family.

          The whole situation left me frazzled and stressed. Ever since, I've wondered how to help this sort of thing not to happen again. I've come to the conclusion that in cutting corners, mentally damaged soldiers (physical or mental damage to the brain leaves similar problems for the public to deal with, just the same) are being left out in the weather. From what I've learned, some returning veterans are choosing life on the streets as homeless in preference for the medical treatment they're getting. There is something seriously wrong with that, and it doesn't take a genius or a 'bean counter' in some Veteran's Hospital to figure out what's wrong.

          My father was a veteran of World War II, and he had some of the same problems these young men have. For some 50 years, Dad didn't remember any dreams at all; he was blocking memory of his dreams with a vengeance. After he had a leg amputated and was given (against his ability to process it) morphine, he started dreaming. His restless leg syndrome got a lot worse, as well. Later, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) of the delayed sort. I grew up with Dad's gory tales of the war, and as I grew older, it became clear that, as horrific as those stories sometimes were, there was a lot he wasn't talking about. Once he said that when he set foot back on American soil, he looked around at all the innocent, helpless, ignorant faces around him and wondered if they knew what he had done, what he had become, and what he was capable of... and he wondered if they knew how easy it would be for him to do the same things to them. Somehow, he hung on and raised a family. Not a perfect family, but a family still. He was a tough man. He struggled to maintain his original dreams in spite of all, and to some extent he succeeded. He used the Veteran's Hospital often as the years passed, but only in late years was he seen by any mental health professional.

          The warriors who protect our homeland and our rights often do without those same rights, and worse, they often die of it. Or suffer in some other way.  The military medical system is set up so that any complainers (those who file lawsuits in particular) are locked completely out of ever getting any medical help from that same system ever again.  If the veterans don't like their care, they have only the right to go elsewhere and pay for it themselves. Getting a Veteran's Administration disability income is not easy, either. There's a lot of red tape and it's a tangled weave indeed.

          I am left shuddering by the images that race through my head of those two returned soldiers coming to battle over nothing more than a car wash bay. And of the unsuspecting police who would have tried to save them from themselves as a result.

          Mercy and peace. Don't we all deserve that? Especially those who have no choice but to fight for it on behalf of all of us? Life goes on, yes. For some, it's just another day in a crappy car wash. For others, it's a living hell paved with crushed and mangled dreams. Who will protect the warriors of our world from us and from themselves?  There is something so wrong with this current arrangement that it approaches evil, as I see it.

          There seem to be few solutions. All I can say is, "Please, protect a veteran soldier of foreign war today. And tomorrow, maybe we can all be one family again."