This article appeared on Memorial Day 2016 in the local newspaper, The Tribune Review. It is pasted below.
When I ask students at Duquesne University if they or a family member are veterans, there is usually a sprinkling of hands. More hands are raised when I ask about neighbors, then former school friends, fellow parishioners, then friends of friends.
By this time, nearly everyone in class has a hand raised.
When veterans and civilians feel disengaged, which they often do, it is partly because they simply don’t know each other. What civilians should know, contrary to popular misconceptions:
• Veterans are generally better educated than their civilian counterparts.
• They have lower rates of incarceration and violence.
• They tend to be highly disciplined and excel at initiative, leadership and teamwork.
• Even the minority with PTSD generally function fairly well; their suffering is largely private and evident only to those who love them.
• Veterans look back on their time in service with many impressions and often contradictory feelings, but pride is nearly always one of them.
What veterans want from their civilian friends and associates is to feel welcomed and appreciated. They bring extraordinary life experience to their classes, workplaces and communities.
On Memorial Day, many veterans feel called to honor the dead, whom they carry in their memories. It is a time of private grief and public mourning — or at least a time of respect. It is a day when many veterans privately recommit themselves to living lives worthy of those who never came home.
Many are offended by the day’s flag-waving hoopla and by civilians who think no further than shopping or barbecuing. On this day, civilians might let their veteran family and friends know that they are holding them in their thoughts and prayers, knowing that this is a sacred day.
The English essayist, Chesterton, wrote, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” In traditional cultures the moral contract is that the warriors will surround the civilians and fight, risking their lives and limbs, with the understanding that, upon their return, the community will surround the warriors, tending to them in body, mind and spirit, honoring their sacrifices and sharing their burdens.
With regard to PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder: Dr. Ed Tick, co-founder of the nonprofit Solder’s Heart, says that it should also mean post-traumatic social disorder.
And clinical psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Shay writes that what a veteran needs most is not a mental health professional but a community for whom his experience matters. Yes indeed! The psychological and spiritual wounds of war are a human universal, named and ritually addressed in all traditional warrior societies. Because this universal warrior experience has not been appreciated in our time, contemporary veterans with PTSD have felt stigmatized and isolated; and their families and local communities have often felt unsure of their role in helping facilitate the transition home. [This sentence had been shortened in the newspaper copy-RB].
Let’s do what we can to make our region a strong community for our veterans. Not only can civilians help veterans make the return, but veterans can also help civilians with their lessons learned, a continued sense of service, and the qualities mentioned above.