Having spent time with multiple veterans over the years and having served in the military, I have seen the suffering and selflessness of those that accepted multiple deployments and as a result are consumed by the sacrifice. As I spent time with veterans at multiple facilities including the Pathway Home, it was my hope that through facilitating group sessions in comedy writing this would provide an outlet for veterans.
These sessions were a time to use laughter as a form of medicine. It was an opportunity to encourage veterans to find peace by speaking up and writing about veterans’ issues. Many times, the group would find themselves consumed by laughter. Their laughter was grounding and their words transcended the written page into something visceral and healing.
Our veterans are facing many challenges. Unlike the physical wounds of war, conditions such as PTSD, major depression, and anxiety are considered “invisible wounds” and go unrecognized and unacknowledged. But these wounds are not, in fact, “invisible.” There is a gap between recognizing the signs, acknowledging the problem, and when to reach out for help. If we continue to use the rhetoric of “invisible wounds” we make excuses as a community for not recognizing our veterans’ needs for additional mental health support.
An extensive study conducted between the years 2000 to 2010, and published in 2015 by the Department of Veterans Affairs, found that 18 to 22 veterans take their lives every day (Hoffmire, Kemp, and Bossarte). Our veterans are struggling. We know they need our help and we absolutely know that our veterans’ wounds are not invisible.
Many veterans have stated time and again that they are quickly embraced by their veteran peers due to a common and shared understanding, and that they rely heavily on peer support. Studies have found that community-based groups have the potential to decrease morbidity and mortality rates, allow for enhanced self-care, and reduce the use of emergency services. Warrior Research Foundation (WRF), a non-profit out of Northern Virginia, has a Facebook group called “Set Condition Red” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/SetConditionRed/). This platform serves as an open forum for veterans, their family members, and first responders to talk and share their experiences and concerns. The group has over 6,600 members, because it is a safe place to talk, and each member looks after the other’s well-being.
WRF promotes the development of community-based veteran peer-to-peer support groups and also produces films to educate about veteran suicide and prevention. One recently produced film by WRF that I participated in was “Echoes from Afghanistan,” which is a story featuring several U.S. Marines, showing how their unit went into Afghanistan from 2008 – 2009, and since returning have lost 29 to suicide. It was filmed and directed by local Bay Area resident and veteran Steven Gatlin of Special Affects, and it exemplifies the challenges young veterans have when attempting to redefine their lives post war, their struggles to reintegrate back into the civilian world, and the emotional conflict due to their memories of war and loss. To view the movie go to: http://www.warriorresearch.org.
A young veteran once told me, combat veterans are “a lot like feral cats after a thunder storm-- they hide under trestles, bridges, and lonely shadows believing none would love them due to being wounded of heart and spirit. If America grows wiser it will lay out a saucer of warm milk and we will come home.” If we as a community can exemplify human kindness, rally around our veterans to better understand their needs, and change our rhetoric about the wounds of our veterans, we will not only be taking responsibility for seeking additional support for these underserved folks, but we will have to truly acknowledge their wounds, authentically embrace them, and help them to regain their peace.