Updated: May 6
It's no secret that the veteran community is a tight knit group. Amongst the community a certain comradery exists that is almost certainly hard to describe on paper. This brotherhood and family atmosphere exists even amongst complete strangers. Nothing feels better to a veteran than the comfort and company of another veteran. But a veteran's mind, body and soul are often their own downfall. A ticking time bomb and a walking prison.
Our men and women in the armed services are some of the most resilient and strongest amongst us. But how far does that resiliency go? Even the strongest foundations eventually whiter away and crack.
The suicide rates amongst veterans have been talked about for years. But the improvement has yet to be seen.
Back in February I sat down and made a list of everyone in my life that I had known who passed away. After hearing about the recent passing of another soldier I served with in Afghanistan. And I proceeded to divide that list up based on affiliation and where we had met in life. The gut-wrenching reality that would follow really put a lot into perspective for me. Because the largest portion of that list were guys that I had served with. It was not even a contest. And it made me sick to my stomach.
I try to keep a dog tag for every servicemember that I know and served with who has passed away. And the photo above does not even do it justice. I still have others that are being made and I have many more sitting beside my challenge coins.
You talk to most combat veterans, and they will agree with the following. The men I served with are dropping like flies now. It's yearly, and multiple times a year. It seems like my brothers in arms are casualties in more way than one. It seems like all we did was come home to die. Everyone says you reach an age when you start losing people around you. But why is it so common place amongst the military? And it's an early onset. I'm not talking about average medical issues or circumstances. These are young guys with full lives ahead of them. Fathers, husbands, and brothers.
One of the hardest realities of being a veteran is realizing that you are on borrowed time yourself. It makes you wonder when you are next. It seems like the Reaper has our number and we are just waiting for ours to be called.
I don't think that anyone who has never served can ever fully understand the reality of being a combat veteran. And even many that did serve will still find it hard to relate to the combat community. Our veterans go through so much and struggle to just live. Something as simple as just breathing. It's a never-ending tidal wave crashing down on your soul. Over and over again. I used to wonder why I saw so many older veterans walking around the VA with their heads hung low. But I get it now. In a way it feels like consistent defeat. It feels like you are in this empty void being suffocated in your own thoughts.
Society will never understand the depths that a veteran will go to in their own mind and guilt. We spent 20 years having politicians and desk jockeys thinking they knew better than the boots on the ground. Restraining us from doing our jobs. Brass and politicians who saw poor decisions as accolades for career advancement. Ordering us to be more "civil" in war so it didn't make national news. Regardless of whether or not it was called for. They put muzzles on pit bulls for 20 years and expected them to be kid friendly. Countless soldiers were convicted of war crimes for doing their jobs. They had a 1 night stand with Afghanistan for 20 years and pulled out. Blaming everyone except themselves.
Just to return home to an ungrateful nation tearing itself apart over political loyalty and false dichotomies. A society that turned its backs on our nation's finest. Like being tossed to the wolves after a slaughter. Constant struggles in family court systems that hold bias. A VA system that fails even itself. A government that only supports veterans long enough for the next election cycle. Like a trophy of acceptance used for political gain.
When we seek help, we are told its natural to feel unnatural. When we talk about our problems, we have to face the stigma of being labeled mentally unstable. When we express our pain, we have medications shoved down our throats. Veterans suffer at such alarming rates because they often have to suffer alone. While also fighting themselves. Has the nation forgotten us? Why won't they hear our cries for help? The reality is that veterans are in an abusive relationship with society and the government. Break in case of emergency then throw away in the trash.
With Memorial Day right around the corner one has to ask. What memories are we celebrating? Because there is no celebration in agony. Why are so many of our heroes forgotten? Why are so many of our heroes taking their own lives? Because we live in a society that sees soldiers as tools of war used in political gain and virtue signaling. Men and women who become lost only to be tossed in a box in the back of people's minds like a piece of discarded trash.
Everyone loves a veteran until they don't. But the love a veteran has for their country and their service is unconditional. While being in a conditional relationship with a country that has all but forgotten them. Time will never forget. Because in our darkest moments veterans have been the light at the end of the tunnel. A standing foundation visible through the fire and flames. Reaching their hands out to pick up everyone except themselves.
If you want to thank a veteran. Be an American worth fighting for. And the next time you talk to one, take the time to listen. Because "only the dead have seen the end of war." -Plato-
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