November 11, 1918 was the official end of World War I, Armistice Day. In 1938, legislation passed to dedicate November 11th as Armistice Day, honoring “the cause of world peace.” In 1954, after the occurrence of other wars including WWII and Korean War, the word “Armistice” was struck from the Act of 1938, substituting the word “Veteran” making November 11th the day set aside to honor ALL US military veterans from ALL wars. Unlike Memorial Day, which is meant to remember those killed in battle or from sustained wounds during their military service, Veterans Day is when we honor the commitment and service of every member of the US military, living and deceased, during both peacetime and wartime.
As I stop and consider those who have served our country, I can’t help but wonder of some of the ways we may not have shown our respect and appreciation for them. So many of the men and women who have given their time and talent to our military are carrying burdens and scars, and unfortunately, we are not always doing our best to help them. This summer, while wandering through the myriad of vendor fairs in South Jersey looking for craftsmen for our Sisterhood Hanukkah Bazaar, I met a wonderful man who had set up at one of the stalls. He wasn’t there to sell anything, but to raise awareness of what their organization tries to do. James Corbett and Dan Lombard founded a non-profit called Project Refit with one goal in mind: to combat isolation to reduce suicide rates among the military and first responder communities. Their goal is to connect (or reconnect) these men and women with others of similar experiences to give them a community that understands them, somewhere to turn when they don’t feel able to connect in our society.
We spoke at length about PTSD, anxiety, depression and isolation and how they can be magnified among people who are trained to keep moving to complete a mission and “get the job done.” When the mission ends, even if it’s a success, there may be lots of experiences and feelings that have occurred that the person hasn’t dealt with, and these can crush them from the inside without anyone understanding the damage they have sustained. I call these the invisible wounds and scars.
I told him how our Sisterhood has been a strong supporter of another group called Heroes to Heroes, and gave him their information to share. This group is designed to help our veterans, regardless of their religion or faith, who are on a path of self-destruction and possible suicide due to the damage they’ve sustained from moral injury. The program begins with a 10-day journey to Israel to allow them a way to reengage with their faith and find relief and peace through traveling to this Holy Land where they meet with others like themselves as well as Israeli counterparts to find healing. This gives them a community that they can be honest and open without judgment.
As I spoke with this man at the fair, memories of my own childhood came back to me. My father is a Vietnam veteran, and I know he has invisible scars, wounds that he never has discussed in depth with me, but damage that has affected him for his entire life. I remember a lot of times being scared at night by someone banging on our front door at 1 or 2 in the morning, and my dad going down to open our home to a man who was yelling, cursing, and under great distress. My dad would stay up for hours talking (and often drinking) with this man in our kitchen – sometimes they would get quite loud, sometimes very quiet. I was too young to fully understand, but inherently I knew that somehow my dad HAD to do this for this man. As I grew up, I realized that my dad felt an obligation to have our home be a safe place for this young man (they were both still in their 20s.) My dad was providing peer-to-peer counseling at a time when I don’t even think that term was used, in a country that was not very supportive of the veterans who fought in a war that even they did not necessarily believe in.
I spent more time at this vendor space than I did at any of the other ones, because I wanted to learn from this man more about a part of my world that I do not consistently consider. As he shared his information with me, I learned that one of the areas they are working on is getting the word out to female military members about their program. As we explored the reasons why they are having difficulty he told me how there is a worrying trend of an increasing suicide rate among female veterans than that among male veterans (from 2001-2014, 62.4% increase for female veterans vs. 29.7% increase for male veterans.) He told me how military women often feel the need to keep their feelings even deeper within themselves because they are often experiencing prejudice and negative attitudes from both in and out of the military and they must act as if they are even stronger than their male counterparts. This continues even after their military service has ended, as they have trained themselves to not allow anything that can be construed as a “weakness” to be seen by others. The damage that can come from living in this way can seep into so many aspects of life, not just for the individual, but for their family, their community, and by extension, for us all.
I always have tried to show support for those in our military, those who have given up aspects of themselves and their lives to work on my (our) behalf for our country, but I admit I do not think of them often in my day-to-day life. On this Veterans Day, I encourage you to consider how many of us are carrying invisible scars, and give a moment to recognize that we must thank those who have been damaged and scarred working on our behalf.
Links to articles and websites for more information:
Project Refit (James Corbett & Dan Lombard)
Heroes to Heroes
Articles on military women & suicide
Articles on military women & PTSD