A coalition soldier provides guidance during a training exercise on Forward Operating Base Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan April 30, 2013. The security force rehearse demolition training to ensure safety during combat operations. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Philip Diab)

“One love, one house” -Slaves

22 Veterans of the armed forces of the United States kill themselves every day. Every day. This isn’t open to interpretation. This doesn’t have a left/right wing spin to it. There’s no hidden agenda or some kind of wacky conspiracy attached to it. This isn’t my opinion. This isn’t Mr. Blonde’s assessment. This isn’t one of HNIC’s ideas to bring on more readers or get more exposure. 22 veterans kill themselves every day and that is a stone-cold fact.

I think we, as veterans, are getting so caught up in what is going to offend us this week that we really don’t pay attention to it. It’s not front and center of our focus as a community, it seems. I can’t say WHY it’s not on more veteran newsfeeds, I just know that there’s more about what pisses us off and this evidently isn’t it.

We here at OAF Nation have been trying to wrap our heads around this staggering statistic. We’ve been working to ascertain what it is that’s causing it. I personally believe it stems from 4 major factors:

  • PTSD and TBI
  • A feeling of isolation brought on by a marginalization from mainstream society
  • A perceived lack of meaningful purpose in the world or boredom in their lives
  • Neglicence, Corruption, and Abuse within the VA behavioral health system

Right now, I’m going to focus on the first two issues as I feel they are the most pressing.

Photo by: Phil Diab

Photo by: Phil Diab

PTSD is something that has been written about extensively over the course of the longest war in U.S. history. It becomes the central focus of media attention (left AND right wing) whenever some veteran hauls off and does something erratic, such as shoot up a public place or beat someone senseless. However, an unpopular notion within the veteran community is that PTSD is over-diagnosed. An atrocious amount of veterans seem to be receiving disability benefits in relation to service-connected PTSD. (Secret: It really doesn’t take much to walk into your VA, have your spouse testify as to your erratic behavior, and start receiving a check.) It’s sickening and sad, but it’s the truth. PTSD has become almost romanticized in a way. It’s become this conversation piece that adds credibility and validity to a veteran’s service. It’s become a sign to stick in your yard on the 4th of July. It’s become an excuse for just about everything these days and that means the impact of PTSD is being watered down. It’s the age old “Boy Who Cried Wolf” adage. So many veterans are coming back and pulling their “PTSD” cards that not only are other veterans starting to notice, but society at large is starting to catch on, and it’s starting to be taken less seriously than it should. To bring this to light isn’t “PTSD shaming”, a term I saw thrown about in the wake of the “fireworks sign” issue. My argument is how can you shame someone with a condition they’re blatantly faking? How do we know they’re faking? Because as anyone who’s SEEN real PTSD, who’s experienced REAL PTSD will tell you, the last thing you want is to be singled out. As I say, PTSD isn’t a conversation piece, it actually tries to kill you every day. Sure, there are those with PTSD that are more open with it , usually following extended treatment, and I absolutely commend them and their ability to confront their affliction. But, most of those suffering from PTSD aren’t able to leave their houses most days, don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to mention it. They don’t spend their days at the gun range and can’t even look at their shadow boxes because it brings about so many awful memories. PTSD is crippling in most cases. Those with it that aren’t being treated properly thru counseling and medication (be it pharmaceutical or self administration of cannibis) are barely able to function day to day, they’re not looking to “inspire dialogue” with their neighbors.

We also don’t corner the market in PTSD. I have a very close friend, whom I hold in high esteem, who is a never-deployed member of the National Guard. She struggled with PTSD for a very long time. I’m sure you’re all out there shaking their heads assuming she’s faking it. But, she was raped during a stateside field op when she first joined and left for dead in the woods, being discovered when her unit conducted a search. This type of trauma causes PTSD, as do a myriad of other events in one’s life. However, we don’t see people wearing shirts saying “Car accident victim, please be courteous while operating motor vehicles.” They don’t act like assholes and pop off only to fall back on their “I have PTSD” excuse.

PTSD has become a catch all for any type of issue a veteran may have. Veterans with generalized anxiety or depression don’t seem to be diagnosed as much as PTSD and I’m willing to bet the paycheck isn’t as substantial either.

This falls into factor number two: the isolation of being marginalized by society.

All too often I hear veterans saying “this society these days, they don’t get us” or “no one understands me.” It’s hard to go from a close knit group with a common goal, common problems, and shared hardships, to a mundane life amongst a population where people think of themselves as individuals and conduct themselves as such. Upon discharge, you’re usually across the country from people that genuinely KNOW who you are.

The world shrinks for you. You have a hard time relating your experiences to your families and coworkers and would just rather not be around them. You internalize. Trust me, I’ve dealt with it a lot over the years and I get it.

But there is also an external component to this equation.  Until recently I blamed society for the disconnect. I would rant and rave angrily about how America’s attention is drawn more by celebrity and professional athletes than those they send off to die for them. Society views veterans with a cautious pity (not everyone, mind you). Like I said in “Long Division”there’s a huge chasm between the veteran subculture and the society in which we reside. However, looking more closely at the matter, talking with our community, LISTENING to hundreds of fellow veterans, I’ve drawn an even more unpopular conclusion, and one that I’m sure will get me labeled “liberal”, “anti-veteran”, or any other buzzword they’ve copped from the media.

Photo by: Phil Diab 

Photo by: Phil Diab

We do it to ourselves.     #InB4GrifterHate

Look at your social media platform. We all have “that guy” on our feed. You know exactly who I’m talking about. He may have been in your unit, or may be an acquaintance. But, he is constantly posting angry ass shit. (I think we can all agree that we’ve all done that a time or two) He’s always beating his chest and talking about what a badass he is. Now, you know full well he was the police sergeant for your company. You know full well he was a sick-call ranger. You have it on good authority that he deployed to KAF in 2013 and due to a broken toe, spent most of his time at the boardwalk eating ice cream and having patches made.

However, in the interest of “professional courtesy”, you don’t say shit. You roll your eyes, grit your teeth, and shake your head at this guys’ rants about American society. You watch him tell off anyone with an opinion that differs from his, usually beginning his retorts with “as a COMBAT veteran…” His “veteran outrage syndrome” is off the charts. You see him in “ISIS Hunter” t-shirts and jeans with his Bushmaster. But, it’s all good, right?

Now, I have no problem with POG’s, or even Fobbits for that matter. Great many POG’s have gotten me out of shitty situations with everything from lost equipment to paperwork. I’ve been cool with them and gotten to turn in weapons early, or gotten “the good radio” because of it. I’ve worked with many a professional POG that performed their job better and with more pride than a lot of hitters I worked with. And, I know that many fobbits and POGS have been blown to pieces for their country. So the POG v. Grunt/03/SOF/11b is getting to be pretty played out in this day and age. Chips on shoulders and dick-measuring is what it amounts to these days.

However, it’s when a veteran, regardless of experience, job title, billet, or MOS paints THE VETERAN COMMUNITY in a bad light that I begin to have a problem. I addressed this in “This Isn’t A Circus, Don’t Be A Clown”.  When a veteran further perpetuates the stigma of “dysfunctional veteran” that is when we should take issue. If a guy comes back from deployment and wants to embellish and lie to his family, who cares?  If he wants to put 50 “Iraq Veteran” stickers on his Honda Civic, it’s ok. If a dude has pride in his service, that’s encouraged. However, it’s when that veteran starts faking an affliction in order to add credibility to his bullshit, that’s when we see a black eye on our community.

We had a thread over Freedom Weekend where a mother went high and right about our post regarding the fireworks signs. She stated that her son had PTSD and runs out of the house with a gun in hand when he hears fireworks. She went on to validate this behavior saying that he was a mortarman, watched his best friend commit suicide, was involved in a humvee accident, and had to kill a man while looking into his eyes.

Now, I feel for this kid about his buddy and wrecking a humvee. That is shitty. But I’ll go ahead and call bullshit on that last bit. Even if it were true, why would you tell your mother this? That kinda shit is for you and your counselor, your buddies and that’s it. It’s not for a mother’s ears. I’m sure she’s already heartbroken enough that her son had to even deploy, leave it at that and save the stories for someone else.

However, this brought to light an even more disturbing issue.  A lot of guys are returning with made up, fantastical stories told to wow their friends and families. Now, in order to add value to his tales, he has to act crazy because that’s what veterans in the movies do when they’ve been knee deep in the shit. I think this kind of behavior is more damaging to us than the clown shoe that has never served a day in his life and puts on a uniform to get a free meal at Applebee’s.

Too many veterans are taking their cues from Hollywood. Movies typecast veterans as ticking time bombs, crazed, damaged, and broken people who are ready to explode in a violent rage at the slightest provocation. No one ever makes a movie about the veteran entrepreneur helping other vets. No one ever talks about the innovations and assets veterans have provided to society. All anyone seems to be able to focus on is the “movie version” of veterans.

So, in essence, veterans are treated as they’re portrayed in the movies because that’s how a lot of them think they need to act. As Mr. Blonde says, “it’s a self fulfilling prophecy”. However, it’s causing more damage to us as a whole than we seem to acknowledge.

For example, an acquaintance of mine used to work HR at a national department store chain. She and I got into a discussion a few years ago about veterans issues. She brought up the point that she was being pressured by higher to put the resumes of veterans at the bottom of the pile or toss them completely. When I asked why, she told me how there’d been several instances of veterans going apeshit on customers and managers, even assaulting them in one case. She said corporate saw veterans as a potential liability to customer service. At the time, I blew up on her and vowed to single handedly bring down this national store.

Now, I kinda see their point. After hearing about veterans like “momma’s boy” above, can you blame them? If this guy can’t hear thunder or fireworks without running from his house ready to blast Terry, what makes anyone think he can handle a job at a department store? If a guy is wearing a shirt warning others of his “combat veteran” status and that he’s prone to outbursts and can’t have people stand behind him less than one arm’s distance, why would any savvy business owner want him interacting with the customer?

Bringing it all around, we have a huge suicide crisis that we are failing to adequately engage. This crisis is caused by factors that at some point we CAN get a handle on. Are we going to cure PTSD? No. Are we going to assimilate into society as a whole? Probably not. BUT, we CAN start policing our own and stop the stigma of damage that’s tied around the neck our community. We can certainly be the “second greatest” generation if we started carrying ourselves as such instead of acting like a parody of a “‘Nam vet” thats been so popular over the last several decades.

We can do better. We are capable of so much more. But there is a minority within our ranks spoiling the opportunity for the betterment of our community and ultimately we are responsible too. If wanting veterans to be seen as assets, not liabilities: if wanting those with real PTSD to get the help they need, if wanting to find our place in the world, is anti-veteran. I guess you can consider us anti-veteran…as fuck.

-Grifter

Johnny
Grifter is the progeny of the Marine Infantry, Reconnaissance, and Private Contracting communities. He also spent some downtime as a Paramedic and a firefighter. He’s and avid reader and a student of life. He’s dedicated his life to finding and promulgating truth in a society which sees only what it wants to see. Over the years, he’s filled passports, made lots of money, rolled his eyes at authority, broken hearts, poked bears, and flown in the face of tradition and status quo. Responsible for such titles as: Veteran Outrage Syndrome, Collateral Damage, and When the Music Stops, Grifter reflects on his observations of the masses with a critical eye towards group-think and identity politics. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and two dogs. He is also finishing his last year of school before moving on to become an attorney so he can charge people money to speak to him..and capitalize on a laundry list of personal character flaws. His favorite band is Every Time I Die and he can swim better than you.

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