Some of the Deepest Wounds of Veterans Go Undetected

Veterans Day
If you are a veteran or know a veteran who may be contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.
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When President Donald Trump announced the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last month, he was widely ridiculed for embellishing details of the raid. Journalists and fact checkers dissected every word of his press conference to catch him in one of his trademark lies. But all of them missed one of the president’s statements that is almost certainly false.

In this case, however, it’s tough to blame Trump. This wasn’t one of his usual lies. He simply said something that is very likely wrong. It’s not his fault and he didn’t make it up. This particular falsehood was passed up the military’s chain of command and nobody ever paused to think about whether it will turn out to be wrong. We don’t blame them. It’s equally difficult to fault the journalists covering his announcement for not catching it. They simply don’t think along these lines.

But all of us should… and today is the perfect day to do it.

So what was this thing Trump got wrong? It was an innocent sentence that seemed to be correct. “We had no soldier injured,” the president said.

That doesn’t sound false, does it? After all, we would know if a soldier participating in the raid had been shot or blown up by a booby trap. But we have no idea what kind of emotional scars the troops involved in the raid have suffered. They had just been involved in a high-stress, life-or-death situation and witnessed how a man had blown up himself and two children.

How can that not leave an invisible mark?

Obviously, it’s not just these particular soldiers. The same applies to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have seen combat.

“Seen combat.” That is a fairly benign phrase for what they really experienced. Maybe they witnessed a friend die in their arms in a horrible way. Maybe they survived a near-death experience. Maybe they killed somebody — a combatant or a woman or a child. Or maybe the stress of finding themselves in a kill-or-be-killed situation day after day just wore them down.

Think about going through that and, all of a sudden, a broken leg doesn’t sound so bad, right? Because that will heal. An invisible trauma, however, may not. People can carry that around for a lifetime without anybody noticing.

But they don’t award purple hearts for psychological injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Soldiers are taught to be tough. The military is a very macho culture. Many of these men and women don’t speak about the things they have seen and experienced once they get home. And, unless you have walked in their boots, it’s very difficult to understand what they have gone through.

That is why, in far too many cases, their loved ones don’t find out about these struggles until it is too late. Which brings us to this moment.

Right now, a veteran is getting ready to commit suicide. Statistically, at least 16 of them will kill themselves on Veterans Day. So, as you are reading this, somewhere in the US, somebody is preparing to end the life they once risked for their country.

We all know the numbers. More than 6,000 veterans commit suicide each year. They are 1.5 times more likely to die by their own hand than people who have not served. The rate for female veterans is even higher. They are 2.2 times more likely to kill themselves.

But this isn’t about numbers. It’s about lives. It’s about people who are suffering because they were thrust into terrible situations by the politicians the American people elected.

We should remember that, not only on Veterans Day but also on any other day. Still, today might be particularly difficult for some veterans. Sure, they can get a free haircut or a complimentary meal, but all that hoopla probably brings up some things many of them would rather forget.

So, if you know a veteran who may be struggling, reach out to them. They may be one of those 16.

Above we wrote that it isn’t about numbers. That’s not entirely true, because here is one that matters: 1-800-273-8255.

That’s the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and veterans calling it can press 1 to reach a VA staffer. Troops currently serving abroad can find information here on which number to call.


The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: gun (Marco Verch / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and dog tags (US Air Force).


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from AFGE / Flickr (CC BY 2.0) and US Air Force.

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5 responses to “Some of the Deepest Wounds of Veterans Go Undetected”

  1. gk says:

    Ed is spot on with his citation re: Moral injury. Personal story: US Navy Hospital Corpsman, US Marine Field Medical Training, ( Combat Medicine), fortunately never participated in battle. But saw, and participated in the results of the devastation created by our misadventure in Viet Nam. Worked in an amputee ward, morgue ‘duty’, essentially autopsies, putting bodies back together to ship home, and so on. Treated for PTSD in my 50s, because there was no such terminology in the 60s, and my ‘behaviors’ were misdiagnosed, numerous times.Incidentally, I was 20 when my service took place, and had never been on a plane before, let alone seen a dead body outside a funeral home.Over the next few year I witnessed horrible disfigurement, painful deaths, suicides, drug addictions, violent outbursts, psychosis, and more, all among young men who had potential to be participating in more productive endeavors under more positive circumstances. Moral injury, coupled with deep psychological scars. No doubt about it.And the superficial ” Thank you for your service”, and ” support our troops” PR nonsense doesn’t cut it, frankly.

  2. Ed says:

    Moral injury: (from Wikipedia) “The concept is currently used in literature with regard to the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.[5] Moral injury can also be experienced by warriors who have been transgressed against, and thus also in circumstances other than combat. The injury may in those cases include a sense of betrayal and anger.[6] For example, when one goes to war believing that the purpose of the war is to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, but finds that not to be the case, the soldier can experience moral injury.” Or initially believing that you are fighting a war of liberation or a war to establish democracy and human rights, only to discover that you are actually waging a war of occupation or are propping up one side in a murky civil war.

  3. spanko says:

    When we add in the pot-combat suicides, then has the US won any war since 1945?

  4. elizabeth shipley says:

    May we also remember all the people on whom we bombed and killed called
    “the enemy” ?

  5. Butch says:

    Soldiers are also inundated with toxic vaccinations, GMO foods galore and in many arenas exposed to dangerous radiation, even excluding “burn pits”. But surely none of that is of any consequence.