Tuesday 25 August 2015

Calling For a Referendum To Aid All Veterans

I have a friend who is a veteran.  He fought in the Bosnian War.  Usually, the war itself doesn't phase me.  I mean, which war that is.  There are so many, and in my opinion, none of them warranted.  But this one is different.

I was in high school during this one, and my friend Jane had a boyfriend who was right in the midst of it. I remember she called him once and in the background she could hear bombs dropping.  Now, you must remember that my life and Jane's life revolved around teenage stuff;  her friend's life revolved around survival.

For those inside of wars that's all it's about.  Day by day by day just trying to survive.  And we believe in our western comforts that when that war is over, so is the sentiment of mere survival.  But that's not the case at all is it?  We now know that the war lives on.

The war lives in moments of daydreaming, it lives in the sounds of fireworks.  War comes alive at night in some dreams.  And it stays alive in the scar tissues of the perpetually aching wounds that do heal over .. on the surface.  Prostheses are fitted and when that pant leg goes back down, we believe that life goes on.  We believe that a pension and some flair removes that survival sentiment.  We believe that pride and the societal gratitude for their service fills their heart with comfort.  Out to pasture go our veterans, free to live the rest of their days in peace.  If only that were the case.

School children playing can sound like shrieks of fear.  People rushing, tires screeching can sound like the memory of an attack.  And squares on the calendar that mean so little to you and I, can represent annual reminders of moments of terror.

From time to time my friend the veteran shares with me.  I know not when it comes, the words shared when I least expect them.  But I always lean in, always stop what I'm doing and concentrate on this fragmented testament from a hero who remains to this day, blameless in all of this.  He tells me this time of year is bad because it was September when they came home.  Odd isn't that?  That the date they came home is one that sticks in their grey matter the way a poisonous tick clings to its host. Why do you think that is?  That question comes from another fragmented piece of this puzzle.  My friend speaks of the many ways in which he and his regiment were and still are disrespected by the military. But how they were treated when they came home is for me a mystery, I dare not burden him with my need for clarification.  My role isn't to get the details right.  My role here is only to listen, to apologize, and to offer invisible support or perhaps a doobie when I have one.

I guess now I feel like taking on a role of advocate for him.  I'd like to hug him but I fear that would be too much.  Instead, I just try to support him.  I don't really know how.  I only know to keep the conversation light until he is ready.  I don't dare ask questions.  I don't even clarify details because he doesn't deserve to have to set the scene for any of us.

The platoon, the regiment, the squad or the group ... it has its mindset, it has its orders, it has its own mantra even.  By its own design it is a supportive network of men and women that form a bond over time they say.  That bond no doubt aids in that survival instinct.  But in the moments now, as each of them tries to audit the memories that keep bubbling up, they realize that they are alone.  The support of the squad isn't there anymore.  That web, though invisible was made of the strongest silk.  But is it now gone?  Has it dissipated into thin air?  It feels that way when each year they have to beg and grovel--or so it feels--for their pensions.  Veterans who lost limbs have to prove their limbs haven't grown back in order to get what we all say they deserve.  We all wear our yellow pins don't we?  If pins were dollars maybe we'd have enough funds to give our men and women of the military what they need.

My heart is heavy at the moment for a man I never knew.  Another veteran.  Another soldier from my friend's regiment.  He says now there's only two of them left.  I think he feels the pressure of that to be honest. And in turn, I feel the pressure of worry for this friend of mine.  Last week he received a phone call from a distraught widow.  Her life, shattered.  Her husband, gone fishing but never to return.  How this conversation and many after it went, haunts my friend though he knows he did the right thing.

You see, this widow believes the web still exists.  She like so many of us believe the bullshit Hollywood nonsense that show soldiers selflessly comforting the wives of their deceased brothers, as though they themselves aren't also on the verge.  Hollywood shows strength and valor and unwavering pride.  Is this what veterans feel?  I'm not so sure.  My friend was asked to go down East and bury this fellow soldier from his regiment. And when he hesitated she demanded it of him.  At the moment he told me this, I was so torn between angst for him and angst for that widow.  I wanted to protect him, but I wanted to comfort her.  Her words cut into him, I saw this.  But what did those words do to her as they left her lips?  Did they tear through leaving a mark?  Did she know as they were piercing the skin that she was wrong to say them?  Grief can be the sharpest weapon we have.

My friend told her that he couldn't do it.  Money and transportation aside, he literally could not do it. I fear that at the moment, his own scars of ptsd are held together with white knuckles.  I see it in him some days, the war sits right beneath the surface.  Those are the days that he doesn't share with me. Those are the days that he busies himself with anything that will take his attention away from the ongoing battle in his head.  His decision to put himself first undoubtedly weighs on him too.

As a child, there was this one guy in our small town that went off to the military.  His name was Pat. Pat is older than I am, but we shared a bottle of zambuca once at an outdoor family reunion many years ago.  Alcohol can be like grease on a tire when it comes to words and sharing memories or traumas. While we sat staring at the fire, our faces burning but loving it still, Pat shared with me some of what he saw.  He shared some of what he did.  He shared with me the feelings, the smells, the noises.  I think the noises were the worst and as we sat there, I could tell that he was still in that war. Whichever one it was.  Can Pat ever be free of that survival sentiment?  Can my friend ever be free of his memories? Can any of our veterans for whom we fly flags and wear pins and feel respect, really forget what they went through?  And do we have any right to ask them to do it?

I'm learning that the answer to that question is no.  And that leads me to another question about war and why we keep doing it.  I wonder how parents can push their kids to be in that world, when they know they won't be supported after the duty is done.  You know that right?

This issue is worldwide I think.  If your country has a military, you're in this too.  Your opinion of this is important.  And how you use that opinion could be life shattering or life saving for millions of soldiers of varying ranks, ages, experiences, and disorders.  The citizens of Canada make the rules. Election #42 is going to illustrate this.  So while we're there, choosing a leader, I say we demand what we all know is right.  Instead of building up the military with tanks and artillery and F35's, we need to make sure ALL of the veterans and people who took part in defending our freedoms are supported fully.  Put the military spending where it should have always been!  Otherwise, what's the point of wearing those little yellow pins?

Ask any veteran if those pins help him or her sleep at night.

Thank you to all who have served.

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