Its All About Abandonment
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Abandoned Veterans
By: J. Ray Rice, M.S.W., A.C.S.W.

We are missing Veterans issues (150,000 - 200,000 are homeless) and leaving them feeling and being abandoned after they have given their service to America. They have absorbed damage to their minds, damage to their brains, damage to their bodies, damage to their marriages, damage to their children, damage to their employment, damage to their soul in the things war forces them to do in order to survive. This is not by their choice, but by design. We not understanding and sometimes misunderstanding what a solider has to endure in training and in war. We are not understanding and sometimes misunderstanding what a solider copes with when they leave the war zone and return home to their communities. To understand this all we need to do is to listen to the Veterans of World War II and you will see their tears, and you will hear their pain. Their experiences in war have never left them. It goes on inside of them each day of their lives.

Last night, Saturday January 19, I was working on my blog when I stop to read an article by AP National Writer: Erin McClan. It compelled me to write about how veterans are feeling and being abandoned by their country, by their families, by their friends, and most importantly by themselves.

Before I started to write, I researched and included resources for veterans, members of their families, and friends. I have been aware of veterans’ abandonment issues from my stepfather and uncles serving in the Korean Police Actions (War) and seeing how it affected them. I was aware of my friends and classmates that served and died in the Vietnam War or returning home and destroyed themselves. The Vietnam War ended before my lottery number was called to serve and I considered it a blessing from God to continue my studies as a Social Worker.

This takes me to my first issue of abandonment...abandoning one's belief systems in killing another human. I understand and accept that in war you have to kill or be killed when confronted with someone that is trying to kill you. One would be forced to kill in order to survive or accept own death at that moment. However, how many of us who have ever faced that decision can truly understand what it does to our belief systems? What conflict does it present to our religious beliefs. What conflict does it cause to our sense of self and who we are as a person? What conflict does it present to ones ability to forgive and forget about taking another person's life, when they do not believe in killing another human? What conflict does it present when you mistakenly kill innocent people? What conflict does it present when you kill a child or a pregnant mother? All of these abandonment events, feelings, and experiences come back to haunt a solider in the form of suicidal behaviors and actions, drug and alcohol abuse, as they try to cope by pushing away all of the people that love them? Why, because deep down inside they do not feel that they deserve to be loved by anyone for what they have done. And they have to live with this the rest of their lives.

The ability and need for a solider to bond with his or her fellow soldiers is essential to everyone in the unit surviving in a war zone. This brings me to the second issue for any solider... the unresolved abandonment issues, actions, and experiences brought on by the death of other soldiers. This happens repeatedly during the war. It includes the citizens that are assisting these soldiers and the citizens that are being murdered and killed accidental. All of these deaths produce unresolved abandonment issues, events, and actions. The soldiers are without the opportunity to grieve or mourn the deaths of fellow soldiers or citizens. Soldiers survive by shutting down most of their feelings. They keep angry, fear, and rage open. Our police departments take an officer off active duty and provide counseling after an officer has their first kill. War does not afford this policy. Soldiers have to suppress their feelings of shock, anger, loss, separation, and abandonment deep inside of themselves and continue with the need to protect themselves, their fellow soldiers, and complete their missions. Those of us who have never experienced these actions and events, much less experienced them minute by minute, hour by hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year cannot know the toll this would have on any individual. We act surprised and hold a higher level of conduct and behavior to these soldiers. We cannot even imagine how many times a solider must suppress their feelings and fears or how they feel for surviving an event when other members died. We cannot imagine them flying home in a day or two and being with their family and friends, walking down a street processing these experiences of loss, destruction, and abandonment over the death of many they witnessed during the war. A war that they cannot forget, pain and destruction that they cannot get out of their mind, nor out of their experiences. This is why the war does not end when they return home. For many it may be just the beginning.

The third issue of abandonment I wish to address is how society is abandoning Veterans. We have all heard about the sub-standard health-care facilities during the hearings in congress. As a nation we must commit to the task of rebuilding our hospital infrastructure, provide the best of health care to those who served and protected the welfare of America. As citizens of this great nation, we must take back our responsibility to know and see what our government is doing to people. We abandon our veterans when we allow members of our government to outsource the war for profit to private companies and contractors, yet place the American soldiers on the frontline of the battle without the same compensation, manpower, and resources to succeed. As a society we abandon our veterans when we accept that the press is not allowed to take pictures of their coffins returning to the country they died protecting.

The fourth abandonment issue I wish to address is why some veterans are abandoning themselves. Now I will address the behaviors of the Veteran Erin McClan was writing about in the homeless shelter in MA. What I about to say I believe will apply across the board to Veterans everywhere. All behaviors have meaning. When we bother to understand the reason for the behavior, it gives us the key to resolving the behavior. The veteran in his article was suicidal! Why?

  1. He has unresolved abandonment issues from surviving death. How many deaths did he witness during his two tours in Iraq? One of his roles according to the article he loaded twenty dead soldiers into helicopters.
  2. The article says that he knew the soldiers that had been killed. How did this affect his mind? It would be understandable that he would feel guilty for surviving. This would give anyone a post-traumatic stress disorder.
  3. When he returned to the states and had an automobile accident that broke his collarbone, was it an accident or a suicide attempt?
  4. He road his motorcycle at 100 miles per hour and tried to stand up on the seat. He placed his load gun in his mouth. He wears a T-shirt that says...Camp Kill Yourself!
  5. He drank during the war to cope with his pain and continued when he returned home.
  6. He felt abandonment when he moved with his wife and her job across the country and left his friends and support system behind.
  7. It is reported that his wife could not deal with his self-destructive behaviors and filed for divorce.
  8. The veteran felt abandonment after losing his wife, and his home and now lives in a shelter.

As husbands, wives, parents, family members, friends, government officials, employees, healthcare professionals, we must understand that it would be easy for any veteran that has experienced one abandonment event after another to easily get to the point of abandoning themselves. Giving up on them is what everyone else has done.

If we really want to change the self-destructive behaviors committed after the war then we must provide the opportunities for veterans to have "corrective learning experiences.” In other words, we need to provide rehabilitation services before returning veterans to their homes and communities. This would provide the opportunity for the veterans' abandonment issues to surface and to begin healing their emotional pains and wounds. We send them to boot camp to train and bond before war, but neglect to terminate them properly. Our government needs to provide a two-month exit camp for all veterans to debrief their war experiences, provide treatment, and evaluate their needs for follow-up services within their community. This would be the responsible way to reintegrate all veterans back with their families and communities. This to me makes sense!



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