What do I mean a veteran? I mean that I served honorably in the military, but I also tend to mean a veteran as in I’ve experienced. I’ve experienced things that most never have and never will, and I’d like to keep it that way. Other people shouldn’t have to do what so few of us have.
That’s me, the Veteran of this collective.
It’s not glamorous; there’s no real glory in war. In the U.S. Army, I was a signal officer. To explain what I did, I usually tell people “toasters to telephones, if it had a current running to it, it was my problem.” And that was true–I remember once being asked if I knew how to fix a microwave. Turned out I could fix it, but only because a circuit breaker had tripped (i.e. he microwave overloaded the circuit).
But my main job focused on helping my unit communicate, and I was also responsible for ensuring that, if possible, I could prevent what we called RCIEDs, or Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Devices, by using jammers, effectively preventing communication. I’d like to note that happily, on my watch, there wasn’t a single RCIED detonation.
Why this post? Well, I’ve been somewhat introspective today. Memorial Day came and went two weeks ago, and every year it’s harder and harder it seems. It’s hard because of those that we lost while deployed, but lately I’ve been struggling with a different loss: those who lost their lives to war, but were home when they did.
Those service members who took their lives when they weren’t physically deployed are the ones I hurt for. Most of us want to help, but once it’s done, it’s done and gone. A lot of the time we don’t even know that some one is struggling. I’ve been thankful when calls have come in at 4 AM, when I’m texted or messaged out of the blue (or email, even if I don’t know you). I try to check up on former service members I know who are struggling or aren’t yet, but have a lot going on in their lives. Leaving the service is hard, mostly because you feel like you don’t belong once you’re out. You feel like you’re alone. Ask any vet. I could write a whole post on that subject alone. Maybe I will.
Following my service, I took a bit of time off and then attended law school. My own mental health problems didn’t really come out until I had the stress of some of the most rigorous study pressing down on my brain. I didn’t understand fear, because I was taught that I was supposed to be fearless, to show no weakness. And of course, unavoidably, as a woman, this need to be fearless and show no weakness is always ten fold. My experience is echoed by many others.
But veterans in general commit suicide at a rate higher than the average population. With women, the rate is significantly different than the rates with men, the corresponding proportions between women civ-vet and men civ-vet.
We often talk about counseling to prevent suicide. But what about those of us left behind? Rarely do you hear the VA offering resources to help those of us who are left behind specifically. But rightfully so. You certainly can’t maintain quality of life which may improve your state of mind when you’re not alive, especially if you’re not contemplating suicide in the first place. We have to focus on keeping people alive. We can do something when you’re still breathing. Something can be done.
But this reality doesn’t make it any easier. I miss them all, so very much.