“I’m still here.” – A veteran’s story.

This morning I had therapy at the local V.A. clinic. When I went in to my appointment I had thought that this would be a fairly routine session. My plan was to ask my therapist some questions related to the book I am currently working on, which is entitled Traumatic Episodes: Finding grace in a life lived with PTSD. During the course of our conversation, I began talking about how writing this book would prove difficult because of all the things it would dredge up. Ironically, it was while talking about this potential that something was in fact dredged up during the session which left me triggered and weeping copiously. After I cried it out, we continued to talk and my therapist gave me some helpful pointers on how to deal with any triggers, that come up while writing, in a healthy manner so that I can both write this book and remain reasonably functional on a day-to-day basis. Before I left the clinic Doc told me to “go do something nice for yourself today, you’ve been through a lot, and that will help.” I took her advice and went to a local shop where I bought myself a nice bottle of Port.

That detour meant that I would be entering the city I live in from a different road than usual. As a result of this new route, I saw a man holding a cardboard sign saying: DISABLED VETERAN WAITING FOR V.A. BENEFITS PLEASE HELP. WILL WORK. Coming on the heels of Veteran’s Day (which I wrote about here: Veteran’s Day Post ) I felt compelled to stop and ask him if I could buy him lunch. He accepted and  we went to my favorite spot called The Fridge, where I usually go for lunch once or twice a week. My new friend sat down having ordered only a small cup of soup and expressed his gratitude to me. As I ate my pizza and he his cup of soup,  we began to talk about our stories and the plight of veterans in America.

His name is Don. His last name marks him as a native of Lancaster County such is its commonality in this area. He’d spent 8 years in the army between 1989-1997. As a result of his time in combat, he ended up with PTSD, like so many others who have been taught to kill for America. He made it very clear that he has never asked for anything, he had that sort of “self-reliant” attitude that many Americans have, yet he is in need of help. Don said that he really thought that once Trump was elected things would improve at the V.A. and for vets in general. Alas, Republican controlled Congresses invariably cut veteran’s benefits. The V.A. lost his paperwork for his PTSD claim. He’s been waiting for over a year. This exact thing happened to me after I filed a claim for service connected PTSD. After two years of waiting I called the V.A. and found out that my paperwork had been found under a large stack of other claims and had gotten “lost in the shuffle.” Fortunately for me, once this was known, they moved with alacrity to settle my claim and give me service connected disability for PTSD. I hope the same for Don so he can get his life back.

As we talked, he became more animated and not a little angry. Don said that so many people with American flag stickers on their cars, or stickers showing veteran status or some support for the military, will often either turn their noses up at him derisively or simply look the other way so they don’t have to see him, because seeing him makes people feel guilty. At this point, he started hitting himself in the chest and saying “I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m still here.” He went on rhetorically asking how many of those people who ignore or turn there noses up at him have ever been in combat, how many have watched their friends die right in front of them? The anger and pain at his invisibility to others was evident. I could tell he feels dehumanized every time it happens.

This kind of injustice that absolutely infuriates me. (1) Our country is so hyper-militarized and nationalistic (it’s not just Trump-ism, much of what passes for patriotism in America is in fact nationalism). We’re so quick to wave flags and proclaim our national greatness and yet, there is Don, and countless others like him who have fought in America’s perfidious wars, homeless and begging in the street.  This is one of the fruits of American militarism, which takes young people and makes them pawns in games of wealth, power, and resource grabbing and then leaves so many of them high and dry afterwards as they try to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. America, I heap coals upon your head.

You den of vipers! How dare you celebrate the military which kills innocents abroad with no thought to those whom are falsely named enemy. How dare you fly that idolatrous flag, sing your patriotic songs, and then shit on veterans with your lack of compassion, your looks of derision, your shouts of “Get a job!” You proclaim America’s wealth and greatness with speeches and parades while turning your back on the suffering. You are less than nothing. You are lukewarm and I spit you out of my mouth says the Lord. 

America’s greatness is a facade and will remain so until there is a wave of true repentance. One way in which America can repent is to truly take care of its current veterans and then drastically contract the size of the military and change foreign policy so that there are not so many veterans in the future. Since people who “serve” in Congress get paid for life, I think EVERY SINGLE VETERAN regardless of whether they have a service connected disability or not should get a completely free education and a stipend during the entirety of their academic endeavors- be it trade school, college, or university level, as well as full medical, dental, and vision coverage for life, and the kind of home loan I was able to get as a disabled veteran. This loan allowed me to buy a house without any down payment because I exceed the disability rating requirements. Those who proclaim that such a program would be too expensive should take a quick gander at the so-called “Defense Budget” which if I remember correctly was over $700 Billion for this year and is far and away the biggest expenditure in the federal budget. Perhaps then the size of the military will shrink drastically.

Blessed are the invisible, for they will be fully seen. 

Blessed are they whose lives have been torn asunder by war for they will know Christ’s peace.

Blessed are those who see Me in the eyes of the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lame. Your eyes are open.

Blessed are those who work for justice. Your strength will be renewed. 

 

(1) Increasingly I am able to see the intersections of injustice. This acknowledgment of intersectionality is important for all who seek justice if we are to live into God’s kin-dom and follow Jesus in the here and now.

 

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