When we first launched Healing Warriors Program, one of our staunchest supporters, told us the reason our program was so important for her. This woman, a teacher, mentor and medical professional, shared with us a story she had been unable to share in over 30 years: the anguish of her dad’s death, over what they called shell-shock and we call PTSD, quietly trickled out. It was a heart-wrenching story, made even more tragic by the fact that thirty years later, we continue to lose veterans at alarming rates because of pain and post traumatic stress.
But the problem is complex and finds expression in a multitude of ways, from the homeless veterans living day to day, to the veteran who has transitioned back to civilian life and is seemingly reintegrated into their prior life. Many of our service members expect that once they are home, they should just step back in to their former lives, picking up where they left off. And, as a community, many of us share that expectation. This is partly because the realities of what they experienced are unimaginable realities to us. Our minds cannot stay in that place of horror for very long — while for many of our service members, it is hard to leave.
At Healing Warriors Program, many of our service members come to us for pain relief. This begins with pain from injuries and from hard wear-and-tear of job demands. As we delve deeper into the veteran’s medical history, we find that they are often not sleeping, have trouble focusing and suffer from sometimes debilitating anxiety.
What many of us in the civilian sector don’t realize is that lack of sleep and focus is something keenly familiar to the veteran, but is not always visible to friends, family and coworkers. Why? Because our service members have developed endurance and continue to have high performance expectations for themselves, first acquired under the worst of conditions. They steel themselves to continue as if nothing was wrong, as if two hours of sleep a night is perfectly adequate … they tell themselves that high anxiety is normal and that pain is something they simply need to accept.
Until they no longer can. And this is the crisis point: when they no longer can.
The healing journey starts with the awareness that help exists. We all need to know that resources are available because all of us have a veteran somewhere in our circle; whether a family member, a neighbor, a work colleague, or a friend. If we know resources exist, we can help get someone connected. Sometimes handing someone a card or a website link can be the start of recovery.
After that, it’s about delivering. If it is within the realm of non-narcotic care for pain, post traumatic care and sleep issues, Healing Warriors Program can help. And since we are part of a community, we keep a binder of various area resources in case someone asks about additional help. If the person we are treating is homeless, we keep information on local resources that can offer housing and assistance with basic needs. If the person is looking for a job, there are a variety of local resources to help them with vocational rehabilitation, resume assistance and internships. There are also a number of organizations that can provide help with training, adaptive sports, and service dogs.
This is one of the reasons Disabled Veterans National Foundation’s approach is so smart. They build a collaborative network with a number of local and regional nonprofits providing essential services to veterans in communities across the nation. The problem is too big and too broad for one entity alone to tackle. It is nationwide and complex and demands that all of us, as a community, provide help. For our supporter who lost her WWII veteran dad to suicide, the physical and mental needs of our veterans are always present for her…. and for us.