Hidden Wounds – Human Costs

Morning: May 8th: Tuesday

 Eighteen a day, eighteen a day.

 Eighteen veterans who returned from Iran and Afghanistan commit suicide every day. Eighteen lives every day, lost to suicide. They are victims, uncounted victims of war. As Memorial Day approaches, flags will be waved and talk of heroes and sacrifice will fill the air. Is there courage in our country to face the reality that war costs us as a people on a spiritual, soul level?

 Judith Broder MD, founder, The Soldiers Project, group of volunteer licensed mental health professionals that provide free counseling and support to military service members recently spoke on the Larry Mantel show (KPCC/NPR) about the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. That ruling, while it can’t change the mechanics of how mental health services are provided to veterans, it does shine a light on a situation that desperately needs attention.

 The sad reality is that there isn’t the capacity inside the VA (Veterans Administration) or outside the VA around the country to meet the need. Access to mental health professionals in the entire country is very limited and it is even more so in the VA, according to Tom Tarantino, Deputy Policy Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Mental health care system is old and passive, doesn’t meet the needs of its patients.” he said. “It’s not a shortage of money…Congress has delivered record funding for the VA.”

 Evidence of that lack of access is in the hundreds of thousands of veterans who had to wait an average of four years to fully receive the mental health benefits owed them. 19% of returning veterans are identified with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among the veterans seen in VA facilities.

 Eighteen a day….who will remember these ones lost to war? More veterans have died at home than in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (The Soldiers Project)

 Evening: May 8th: Tuesday

 Wendell Berry is one of my favorite spiritual writers. As the day came to a close, I was reading an essay he wrote called, “The Failure of War”. The wisdom of God comes through his voice.

 “If you know even as little history as I do, it is hard not to doubt the efficacy of modern war as a solution to any problem except that of retribution – the “justice’ of exchanging one damage for another.”

 “National defense through war always involves some degree of national defeat.” (18 a day)

 “In a modern war, neither side can limit to “the enemy” the damage that it does. These wars damage the world…it is impossible to damage your enemy without damaging yourself.”

“by diplomacy we mean invariably ultimatums for peace backed by the threat of war.”

 “To achieve peace by peaceable means is not yet our goal. We cling to the hopeless paradox of making peace by making war….we cling in our public life to a brutal hypocrisy.”

 Wendell Berry’s words force the conversation beyond even providing the needed help for people returning from war. His words force us to take note of the spiritual/soul damage that results from violence, particularly from war. Some soldiers return missing limbs; that is visible. Many soldiers return missing pieces of their soul; that is not so visible but in some ways a deeper, more lasting injury. It is damage that is taken into all the relationships that person holds.

 When fear grips an entire nation, it is difficult to stand up to that fear with cautionary words. It is my hope and prayer that the next time fear grips our nation, the Christian community will collectively speak from our deepest values. It is my hope and prayer that the next time fear grips our nation we will count all the costs before we react.

 “Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Jesus as remembered in Luke’s Gospel

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