Military ‘Sending up the count’: How many can we save from suicide?

“Sending up the count” is something that’s done when troops are out somewhere dark and dangerous, and the leader, normally up in front, wants to make sure everyone’s still there. The leader whispers, “send up the count” to the next person, who whispers it to the next person, who whispers it to the next person and so on until it gets to the last person in line. That person starts the whispering back forward again, only this time, they start off by tapping the shoulder of the person in front of them saying “one”. The next person taps the shoulder of the person in front of them and says “two”. This continues until the person behind the leader in front taps the leader’s shoulder with the number of people behind the first person in line.

We do this especially at night, when we can’t see to the end of the line, or even see the next person. We do this to make sure all is well. We do this to make sure everyone knows that whoever’s supposed to be there, front and back, is there. We do this to make sure those on the team are still with the team. And if someone is missing, we find them and bring them back into the group. [Emphasis mine]

 
  In the last month,  four Canadian Combat Veterans – who having survived deployment – have died at home, within days of each other. Now add one more, as in the last few days, another young Canadian Soldier ended his own life.  Although each death is being investigated, (as are the other 70+ still being investigated) initial reports are calling these deaths suicide.  I read somewhere the other day that since the current phase of this ongoing Global War On Terror, Canada has lost more than one hundred Veterans to suicide.   Quite apart from the huge gaping holes left within those families, those communities, that number is beyond staggering when you consider that thus far in Afghanistan, 158 Canadian losses have occurred in the sandbox due to enemy action.   In the US, various statistics claim that we lose 22 Veterans a day to suicide now outpacing Combat fatalities.   

 

Those are just the ones we hear about.  These numbers, which represent a horrific new ‘normal’ for their families after such a devastating loss, tell me that we are failing our Military men and women. 

Veterans Day (US) and Remembrance Day(Commonwealth countries) may be over for another year, but we cannot just return to ‘business as usual’.   WE  – yes, all of us –  bear responsibility: our Military leadership; our politicians; our mainstream media, and yes, we civilians are failing our Military.

From where I sit, a very basic question arises:  How can we fix this?

 Dated 2009, I found this from the US:

September 23, 2009

The Sergeant and suicide prevention

Suicide prevention 100%

The theme for this year’s “Suicide Prevention Awareness Month” is “Improving our Soldiers and Families Health: A Healthy Force Combating High Risk Behaviors.” At the conclusion of this article, there are many resources/links.

 […]

 I was saddened (but not surprised) to learn of the difficulties and problems some of the soldiers experience while deployed. I can cite many articles about the deployment cycle and its’ affect on the military, it is worth mentioning however that difficulties such as depression, suicide, aggression (some of the symptoms of PTSD) aren’t necessarily exclusive to the ‘multi-deployed’, often, it can be ‘first time’ deployers. In fact, the military is studying the ‘mind set’ of the multi-deployed v. first or second timers to examine the element that helps them cope with extreme psychological pressures and extreme battle fatigue (both mental and physical).

My son is on his fourth deployment, a platoon sergeant (SFC) with approximately 70% ‘first time’ deployers. He is extremely proactive, carefully observing, listening and taking care of his men or any others who seek or need help. The NCO is almost always the first line of defense for troops who are experiencing hardships. I know my son has moved the earth and stars to intervene on the behalf of a trooper in trouble. He is also the same one who will allow the Private on duty with him to catch some ‘sleep’ during 24 hour CQ (Desk/phone duty in the company headquarters/on base) instead of the other way around because he remembers what it was like to be the ‘sleep-less’ private.

He asks much from his men but makes sure he gives them the training, tools and personal time they need to achieve the unit’s mission objectives and succeed as individuals.

[…]

While in the process of completing this article, I read an excellent article “Going Beyond the Book Answer: How to Be a Better Leader, written by Specialist Ben Hutto. In the article,  Spc Hutto writes:

“Army leadership, as I learned it for my promotion board, is the ability to influence others by providing purpose, direction and motivation in order to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” [Emphasis mine]

He talks about ‘leadership by the book’, and states how “the best NCOs are able to communicate the “purpose” behind a command or task no matter how mundane or difficult. …


There is much more here, with an extensive list of Military resources available.  What strikes me as I read this, and as I listen to our men and women today, is that even with all these programmes in place, something is missing, and to this civilian the missing ingredient is leadership.   In the last few weeks I have seen videos from both the US Military and Canadian Military leadership  as a response to the ongoing – and most recent – crisis within the Military community.  Take a look here and here. 

 All well and good, but as the article linked above clearly shows, part of the solution to current issues is about leadership that is connected to our Troops.  

I asked a Military Veteran (Platoon Sargeant in the Army) friend where we should begin.  The truth he gave me is universal and, even to this civilian, makes sense:

The only thing that is going to fix this is good leadership. F******’ know your troops.

 Know when they’re out of character and figure out why….[…] If a soldier has any doubt that they can tell their leader anything they need to, that leader is wrong.. […]
 If you’re going to be in charge, BE in charge. It’s like I’ve said MANY many times: the way to “fix” this is good old fashioned leadership, but the Army doesn’t allow time for that anymore.

 It means returning to the old climate, where leaders led, and trained rather than sat in a bunch of CYA, meaningless politically correct powerpoints. Those briefings are knee jerk reactions to the need “to do something,” by those that have no clue what really can be done.

And that real leadership I’ve preached so often goes against the political correctness and professional managers the out of touch generals are pushing, so they are even further out of touch with any real means of doing something.

[Yes, real leadership is teaching] …knowing when to break s***, and when to turn it off and protect your kids.


This simple concept of leadership is not new, and to this day, real leaders understand what their role is. Just this last weekend, I found another article about leadership. While this compelling article is addressing corporate leadership, it IS written by a Veteran, and it is directly related to leadership within our Military. Every aspect echoes what the Veteran above has told me, and adds weight to how crucial leadership is to our men and women within our Military:

Care, and make sure – without being too obvious or hackneyed – that your people know you care. Fight for them, even occasionally when you know you will lose … it engenders loyalty, and sometimes you need that to hold them together when the “big” reasons for all they’re giving just aren’t enough.

No one will follow you until they know you care.  You have to be demonstrative enough that they know you’re invested – not just in the shared mission you’re pursuing together – but in their fate and future.  Know their stories.  Know the texture of their lives.  Know what makes them tick….


Go read Reflections on Leadership here. 


We are losing our men and women who know what leadership really is, and who are committed to the values of leadership.  I came across another column, also written by a Veteran, which painfully demonstrates the disconnect that so obviously exists between our Military community and the rest of society.

 Sunday, December 15, 2013
You.Them.Me.Us 

We are the expendable and the forgotten. I want to be your voice, but I wish I was able to be someone elses voice. I loved him like a brother. Deployed with him. Slept five feet from him. Taught him to surf. Laughed my ass off when he came down to the beach from the parking lot with Scottish, both with their wetsuits on backwards, looking like they lovingly got each other dressed without their grranimals for the first time. What could have been saved with the ringing of a phone and a hello instead ended with a gunshot in Warner-Robbins without the chance to say goodbye.

 When we leave the life we know and try and build something new for ourselves, we miss the brotherhood, the way that your life depends on the man or woman to your left or right. We miss the hugs that the family we were thrown into and grew to love are now replaced by empty memories of better times and the jokes that only made sense to the people who were closer than family could only get away with telling….

[…]

One veteran dies by their own hands every 65 minutes. That is  22 a day. One active duty Soldier kills themselves every 25 hours.  I do this for them. I do this for you….


 For the enormity of the pain of the loss, that most of us will never understand, go read the rest of this one. 

Epic failure by all of us.   Again:  How can we fix this?

Yes, I do mean all of us, since we as civilians must speak out,  stop enabling the failure of our politicians and the Military Chain of Command to adequately support our Military.

 Let’s start with the politicians.  To anybody who is half wake, even the casual observers, it is no surprise, not news,  that our current batch of politicians are failing to fulfill their duty – as OUR elected representatives – as they daily fail to meet the sacred obligation we all have to our Military community: our Active Duty; our Veterans; our Military families.

As the most recent headlines have shone a spotlight on the Canadian losses, our politicians have rushed to the media to express their concern about what they are calling ‘troubling losses’.

 Read this, an article that pulls no punches about politician’s hypocrisy.

As politicians loudly proclaim that they are ‘bringing the Troops home’ and that ‘Combat is over‘ (nary a whisper of the word ‘Victory,’ have you noticed?) our Troops and our Veterans are used as pawns in political gamesmanship.  It is our Veterans and their families who are bearing the brunt of budget cuts, in all our countries. Yes, the various Defence Departments may have publicised  transitional programs  as a measure of how they support the Troops, which is better than nothing, I suppose, since according to a survey released in  September, Canadian employers – for example –   ‘have little interest in hiring Veterans.’.  Meanwhile, the  Canadian government is proposing to  close Veterans Affairs Offices across the country. 

From CBC, comes this from November 29, of an interview with retired Colonel,  and former Veterans’ Ombudsman,  Pat Strogan.  Hard to miss his message of our failure to our Veterans:

As Stogran says “this is not news” to those of us paying attention over the years. Neither is it news that politicians persist in pointing to the millions of dollars that have been designated to supporting our Troops and Veterans.

The fact is,  politicians can puff out their self-righteous chests and claim how much they do for our Troops and Veterans, how much money they profess to be throwing at support,  but obviously whatever they, and the Military,  are doing is not working. Period.  Don’t take my word for it.   Watch the video above, and read what one of the most recent grieving families has to say about the Military “dropping the ball.”

 “Dropping the ball” by both politicians and Military is not unique to Canada.  I read recently that in the UK (for example) Falkland Island Veteran suicides now outnumber those we lost in Combat, and then I read that within the current Troops/Veterans that more British soldiers commit suicide than die in battle.

 From the US, headlines like thisthis, this and this bear witness to the price that our Veterans are expected to continue to pay once they return from Combat.

As a recent editorial in the National Post said: Canada’s Duty to its veterans is to act, not just talk.

It is my belief that it is the sacred duty of each of our countries to honour the Service by our Troops.

The FACTS clearly demonstrate the Canadian government is failing our current Troops and Veterans, and our Military families.  

Yes, it is true that there ARE official resources available in Canada, such as Canadian Forces Members Assistance Programme, found within the official site of Veterans Affairs Canada, and they also have a page that lists the Guide to Benefits, Programs, and Services for CAF Members and their Families

They also list a 24 Hour Crisis Line Help Line   

Despite all these services, clearly,  the crisis is going unanswered for some seeking help..  What about the families?  Regular readers here know well that I also always acknowledge that the family also serves.  As one Military Wife told me recently: As a Military family, there is no personal life; there is only the Military life.  For those families, there is the  Family Information Line – which supports the ‘Military Families: The Strength Behind the Uniform’.   All terrific, of course, and the absolute minimum we should be doing.  But the numbers of suicide (both those we know of, and those we do not) tell me that these programmes are not helping everybody, and that many, many – who we may only hear about when disaster strikes – are falling through the bureaucratic cracks.

Over the years I have heard –  first-hand – from deployed Troops, and now Veterans, of how they feel our Military leadership, and their political bosses,  are failing them.  

You may remember back in 2010 I shared an open letter here written by a Military Wife who chose to be called “Anonymous”.  She wrote, in part:

Monday, February 8, 2010

The families also serve: A military spouse open letter

To the American Public From a Military Spouse An Open Letter (to anyone who can help) Written by: A Military Spouse December 14, 2009

This is a open letter to the Commander in Chief, First Lady Michelle Obama, the leaders of our Armed Forces, and the American Public. If it moves you, contact your elected officials.

News stations count the casualties of the War on Terrorism; by using body counts. Those numbers represent the service members who have not come home breathing to their family members. What about those that came home breathing, but dead inside? Those who suffer daily from some form, or extreme of Depression, PTSD, TBI, or any other of a half dozen syndromes? What about the families left behind whose soldiers are not getting the medical and mental health treatment the government has promised?

Our leaders stand in front of the American public and talk about how much the war is costing, and how much help is available to our returning soldiers and their families. We throw billions upon billions of dollars to artificially hold up the banking system and the value of our dollar. Yet, we sit by and do nothing while our American families fall apart.

I am the spouse of an Active Duty Soldier;

 […]

I have held up my end of the bargain; the Military and American Government has not. I was on the front lines during the initial invasion. My husband’s military unit deployed on the day the war started in March of 2003…

[…]

I have watched as the man I married has died inside. I have waited for him to work through his demons. …I have asked for help from the military; I have sought help in the laws written to protect my family. I have received none….


There is much more from this “anonymous” Military spouse here.

I wish I could tell you that “Anonymous” from 2010 was just an anomoly, but I know she is not.  

Over the past decade or so since I started writing on Military matters, I have come to know and love more than a few of the Military and Veteran Families from this current Global War On Terror.  These families  are some of the most amazing people it is my privilege to know, and yes, they do share their thoughts with me.  It is through them that I see and hear what life is really like for these “Girls Behind the Men Behind the Guns.”     That poem, written about the women in a long ago war, reminds us that the issues faced by women then and now, and their families, are timeless and universal.  (Yes, I did write a column on that very topic long ago, but I can’t find it now.)  

 FACT is that today Military Wives (of both Active Duty and Veterans) do sometimes fall through the bureaucratic cracks, and as they fall not yards of red tape, nor government-sanctioned organisations,  can provide a lifeline.  From one long-time reader I recently got this (and yes, I DO have her permission to share) :

[…]   Behind every soldier/veteran who suffers in silence with “invisible” wounds called PTSD there is a family and loved ones who suffers in silence as well. We have all read and heard about men who were soldiers who took their own lives in the last two weeks. We are angry, upset, and want to find a way to help stop even one more soldier or veteran from taking their lives again. As we try to find away to help soldiers/veterans we also need to keep in mind their families and loved ones.
 
  It is near impossible to do if you are a wife of a soldier who is still serving…the unwritten rule is wives are seen but are not to speak. We too suffer in silence literally and there is not much help out there for us or loved ones of soldiers dealing with PTSD….

I’m very glad there are many programs for soldiers who suffer from OSI/PTSD but there needs to be something for the families of soldiers. We have issues/concerns/problems at 3 am that keep us awake and there is no one we can talk to. OSI/PTSD doesn’t only come up during business hours and civilian crisis lines are not equipped to understand nor offer much help/advice. I am not the only military wife who also suffers in silence nor is our family the only one who suffer in silence! We need support as well. There needs to be help for wives/families of soldiers still serving and for families whose soldiers are no longer serving. How many suicides will it take for someone to start helping us!…

[…]

Wives can only seek out so much help.  They have to be careful not to draw attention to their husband’s PTSD for fear the military will catch on and put their husband’s military career at risk. To this day being an active soldier seeking treatment for PTSD you run a very high chance of ending your military career even if your PTSD is considered mild.  Your personal life is not personal when you are a Military family. 

The soldier can lose his job for doing what his employer,  the government,  is asking him to do:  seek help for his PTSD.


FACT: although this Wife is anonymous, I have heard over the years of more than a few Troops afraid of seeking help because it is a “career killer.”   I may not be directly connected to our Military in this current GWOT (although I do come from a family with centuries of Military service, and have been  directly affected by the generational ripples of suicide.)  I have heard many times over these last few years of how reaching out to access help has resulted in an extremely negative career impact.  There is a stigma that kicks a Soldier (or his family) who reaches out for help from the official Military programmes.


Given the escalating number of suicides, I asked another Military Wife – a long time friend – for her thoughts on what needs to be done to fix our struggling Military families.  From her I got this (again shared with permission):
 

A veteran should get every stinking possible piece of assistance to make sure they are at peace with the wars they have had to endure.

There is a way to do 24/7 help. At no cost to the veteran. I did it,  and it ended up becoming the Vet Hut Resource Centers locally here.  Just gather up some volunteer-friends, and make a phone tree. Take the phone tree to the local VA-type deal you have, and let them know your group  is willing to be a 24/7 crisis call group to aide veterans who suffer from PTSD and suicidal problems. 

Then leave it with your version of the VFW and the American Legion (or whatever your local equivalent is) and so forth,  until all groups of veteran support centers have the phone tree. Then be prepared for the phone to never ever ever stop ringing.

IT WORKS THOUGH! Then,  when the calls are too many, you take ALL that statistical information you have gathered about the number of calls, durations, and crisis problems without mentioning names etc, and go to your local veteran support centers and show them IN THEIR FACE how vital a small office of round-the-clock crisis call support is for the suffering veterans. Not just ideas. Empirical theoretical studies that proved successful.  It does work. The only problem is finding volunteers to actually answer the phone constantly. 


This workable plan echoes what the first Military Wife quoted above calls for.

Pretty basic, huh, and doesn’t require a gazillion dollars.  I have seen this ingenuity, and this front-line commitment to ‘knowing your Troops, looking out for them’ extend into the Veteran community, and their families. too. Just as in a Combat zone it is a matter of life and death to know that you can count on the battle buddy to your left and your right to ‘cover your six,’ so I see Veterans and families applying that after deployment.    Veterans – sick and tired of waiting for governments’ broken promises/contracts to be honoured – have created support groups specifically designed and run by Veterans – for Veterans.

In Canada, for example, there are Veteran groups that reach out in the way only a fellow Veteran can, as they continue their battles on the home-front.  There is:

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy


Their name says it all, as they advocate, both in front of the mainstream media, and behind the scenes among the politicians, for all Veterans.  I also found a very informative article in the Ottawa Citizen where they quote directly from CVA on the history and meaning of our sacred obligation to our Veterans.

Military Minds

Veterans sharing their common experiences, and solutions,  to  the issues they all face.  

VETS – Veterans Emergency Transition Services

 “…formed to reach out and help the many of Canada’s veterans who had not made successful transitions from their military careers to healthy civilian lives….”

 Our Duty – which also has a petition that I urge you to sign, calling on the government to give our Veterans the support they have earned.


These are but a small sampling of Veteran-led groups in Canada that talk MilSpeak. 

These groups DO work, DO pick up the dropped ball that governments and Military bureaucracies fumble. The Military Veteran  friend quoted above reinforces the bond found among Veteran groups:

Sadly this generation ignores the most obvious “support groups” already established. In an electronic world, VFW’s and American Legions are brick and mortar gathering places for Veterans It’s not all cheap beer and war stories, but an employment network of established Veterans that made their way through the post-Military world. It is just sitting in the company of those that “know” without saying a word, what a Veteran has been through, and is going through, even if the overt topic is an argument about the Iron Bowl, Superbowl, NASCAR, World Series, or World Cup. 



 For several years now, in Canada,  Equitas has been pursuing a class action suit representing Veterans who have been severely short-changed under the New Veterans Charter of 2006.  All Canadians who support our Troops, our Veterans and their families should check that site out.  Let it be noted that the Canadian federal government has spent thousands of dollars, in legal fees,  fighting this lawsuit; money that could have helped a lot of Veterans.  However, also comes news,  recently,  of an individual Soldier who has submitted  his own  $20-million statement of claim with the Federal Court. [ He…] alleges the Canadian military did not adequately address his post-traumatic stress disorder. 


How sad is this that our Veterans have to fight the governments when they return home.  Sure, the politicians may say they “support our Troops” but talk is cheap.  In the week prior to Remembrance Day,  Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberals, challenged the Prime Minister to honour our commitments to Veterans. 

Our politicians continue to fail our Veterans, and our Veterans continue to do at home what they did in the sandbox: fight for rights, but now they are fighting for their own rights.  I came across a stunning statistic out of the US which claimed huge numbers of homeless and hungry Veterans.    How can this be, that in NYC, for example and according to a recent article,  thousands of Veterans are having to eat at soup kitchens???  That is just one city, and I have no way of verifying the truth of their claims. However, I wrote back in October of how the cuts to Military budgets in the UK are swelling the number of homeless Veterans there.  Again, at least one volunteer group is working tirelessly to address that very real issue: Soldiers Off the Street. 



Thank God there are these volunteer groups throughout Canada, the US and the UK who stand up for each other, while the fat-cat politicians obviously remain sitting down on their job. Something in the system is very broken, and regardless of the actual number, if there is even one Veteran living on the streets, that is an epic fail, in my opinion.


So what about the current batch of politicians who appear to be clueless about Military matters, and whose ignorance woefully fails our Troops and our Veterans? As things stand right now, not one of the leaders in the UK, Canada, or the US has served in our Military.  They have no clue what it means to BE a Veteran. As I have watched our Troops and Veterans in the Global War on Terror, I have been anticipating that some of them would enter the political arena, but this is proving to be a very slow process.   In Canada, as of May 2013, out of 4,210 Parliamentarians, a paltry 14 are listed as having Military Service (and one of those is an Honorary.)  That is 0.3325416% in control of our Defence Department, all our Military policies..

From the US, I found this dated 2012:



And yes, there was this underneath the graph:

Military service by politicians is quickly nearing zero. Perhaps this is why many of our politicians are so trigger-happy these days. No one has fought and no one knows just what they are doing when they commit our soldiers overseas.


Ya think?  What this underscores for me is that we need more politicians who ARE Veterans, who know what being in the Military actually means. When I was discussing this with another Veteran friend, they were quick to remind me of  Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan both being non-Veterans.  Good point, but I would also suggest that  both of those leaders, even as civilians, demonstrated their governmental, bureaucratic support for our Troops and Veterans.   The Troops then knew they were supported. The world was a very different place then.  Unlike today, where our political leaders continue to prove that they don’t *get it*,  even as they pay lip service to ‘support the Troops’ when absolutely necessary, it seems to me that Troops from the Reagan/Thatcher era never doubted the support from those leaders. It also seems to me, through the lens of hindsight, that Reagan and Thatcher were smart enough to listen to our Military leaders and defer to their expertise and experience (unlike the current crop of political leaders.)

As another Veteran friend (yes, I know a few!) pointed out to me recently: another part of the difference is the very low fatality rate in our current and recent wars. These low fatality rates are in large part due to military successes in trauma treatment, so that fewer troops have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan than on single days of earlier wars.

This obviously means that we have more Veterans, returning as Wounded Warriors, who have earned all the benefits that we as a society are obligated to provide. Our Veterans today,  who would most assuredly have died in previous wars, are more visible, and yes, they are dealing with long-term issues that we, as a society,  are failing to adequately and effectively address..

One of those issues is the terrible belief by some of our Troops and Veterans that the only option they have is to choose suicide.  

As I heard somewhere recently:  suicide is a symptom that becomes an unacceptable solution.  


The Veteran friend initially quoted above had this to say about suicidal Veterans:


The reality is that suicidal veterans sometimes get raided because they admit they have a gun, who the hell is going to call that line?

 Suicide is not prevented by strangers. It’s prevented by friends, who notice their friend needs help, before it becomes suicidal ideation.


Powerpoints can’t fix this. Generals can’t fix this. Only individuals can fix this.

 Too often civilians and even fellow veterans say and do all the wrong things. When a veteran’s life begins to derail, often those around him withdraw, making it worse. Often, those “friends” he had before the war, suddenly have nothing in common with him. Instead of just listening, they’re more concerned with their own, in his eyes, trivial, problems.


But, when veterans see broken promises, such as promises that “getting help won’t be held against you,” while those that do get help get screwed by the very military that makes the promise, they’re not going to get help. And getting (real) help isn’t seeing a shrink that has never been there, done that. It is finding someone that can help him find his own way through the challenges he’s facing, those challenges that seem to be becoming insurmountable.

 Veterans are withdrawing from society, because increasingly society is self-absorbed and disconnected from what is important to our veterans.



A column from War On Terror News in 2009 reminds that this is not a recent phenomenon, but that within the GWOT environment, we must find solutions:

June 09, 2009


I could copy and paste all of this article, but instead would suggest you go read it here.  For all the commonsense within it, it would be really helpful if some Generals also read it:

But with the advancement of communications, a General can watch a squad level engagement on the other side of the world in real time.  The danger comes in when he tries to command that battle from the safety of his office….


Leadership, again. From where I sit, it is lack of leadership, both in the Military and governments that is sorely lacking.  Our Troops, our Veterans and their families are paying the price. 

 

Not only our Troops, but our Veterans, are missing the ‘old style’ leadership; leadership that undoubtedly saves their lives while in Combat, and can certainly save their lives once they become Veterans.

Today we see the old school Military leadership being deliberately being purged, as our politicians continue to declare – ignorantly and shortsightedly in my opinion – that “war is  over.” NO, it is not.
Still, our Military leaders, who know Combat first-hand, are leaving.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look:

 DISTURBING: The List Of Purged Military High Officers Under Obama 

 And there is this: [US] Army will cut almost 2,000 captains, majors

Where does all this leave our Veterans?  In the same place as they were in the front-lines of the GWOT: relying on their battle buddies from the sandbox, the battle buddies who have been there, done that, and know what hell they have survived.

As another Veteran friend of mine recently commented:  We are not broken.  We are changed.

Who better to understand, and address those changes than another Veteran?  As the politicians, and the Military leadership who has perhaps never seen Combat continue in their failure to understand, and implement, real help that could save lives, our Veterans are ‘sending up the count’, and adapting what worked in Combat into their post-combat lives.

Take a look at what Sgt Brian Harding has to say..

“We are reaching out to find guys who maybe have fallen through the cracks.”


To this civilian, that even one of our Troops, our Veterans falls through the cracks is unacceptable. 

 

I recently heard Canadian former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier interviewed on CBC radio, and his insights reinforce what Sgt Brian Harding and any other Veteran I know has said:

Hillier, who also served in Afghanistan as the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul in 2004, said he suffered only minuscule symptoms of PTSD when he returned home, having the occasional dream or waking up at night.



He credits his strong circle of friends and family for making him feel healthy and comfortable upon his return, but warns that not all soldiers are so lucky.



His final message to troops is to not be alone this holiday season.



“Don’t be alone. Do not be alone over this period of time.

“If you’ve got a problem, we learned long ago in combat that there is no embarrassment in admitting a weakness. No embarrassment in approaching somebody else,” Hillier said.



“You know, we entrust our battle buddies with our very lives on the battlefield, this is now a different battlefield, so trust them. Go talk to your battle buddies. Talk to them and tell them you’ve got a problem. [Emphasis mine]


There is much more here, which includes a link to the radio interview I mentioned above.  If you haven’t read Rick Hillier’s biography, A  Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War,  I highly recommend it.

As Pat Strogan says in the video above, these issues faced by our Troops and our Veterans are not just ‘flavours of the daythere will be more suicides.’   These issues our Troops and Veterans face on a daily basis MUST be addressed in the months and years to come.  To do any less is to dishonour each and every one of our Military and their families. It is an epic fail by all of us. 
 

 Weeks ago, as I decided to write this column, I planned only to write a one-off.  However, I have been reminded of the enormity of the failure of all of us to actively ‘Support OUR Troops’…  I deliberately say ‘all of us’ because from where I sit, there is more than enough failure to go around for all of us.

Despite my familial ties to our Military, and my close ‘family’ ties to many in the current Global War On Terror, as a civilian, no, I do not have the authority of our men and women who have risked and sometimes given all in Combat;  nor would I ever claim such authority.  However, after years of caring about our Troops, our Veterans, and our Military families – of watching and listening to them –  I maintain my belief that we as civilians do have an irrefutable responsibility to stand with them. 

We all must listen,  learn and be educated by those most knowledgeable, our Combat Veterans. If we truly mean to  respect and honour the Service and Sacrifice of our Troops, Veterans and their families, we need to do more than pay lip service. To say we ‘support the Troops’ is not enough.  We ALL need to walk the walk.  We need to demand our politicians also honour our Military Family. We need to address this ‘unacceptable solution,’ which – even during the course of my researching and writing this one article –  has claimed more lives from our Military Family.  

.
WE must not fail.  Period.

[cross-posted from Assoluta Tranquillita ]