June 19, 2016
Twenty-eight years ago my husband became a Dad. I was twenty-eight and he was thirty-six. Back then most families like us were suffering in silence. It was not that we were not talking. The trouble was, no one was listening.
Just like all other generations, Vietnam veterans came home with the battle borne wounds. Their bodies were mending but they were also facing what Agent Orange was doing to them. They were getting on with their lives while their minds could not let go of the past.
We had no way of knowing what was going on all over the country. We only knew what was happening in our own little circle of veteran families. We knew it wasn't good.
We talked about another marriage falling apart and in the back of our minds, we worried we could be next. We talked about another veteran committing suicide and had all the usual questions centered around how they survived Vietnam but did not find what they needed to stay alive. Who would have thought that combat would be easier than being back home?
All of them were young when they served. My husband was just eighteen when he arrived in Vietnam. Most of his friends were around the same age. I didn't know much about Vietnam when we met. I remember him asking me if I was one of the protestors. I laughed and said "darlin' when you were in Vietnam, I was in grade school."
I grew up surrounded by veterans from WWII and Korea, so it was nothing unusual for me to be around his veteran friends. It was just unusual to hear about what he came home with.
My Dad called it "shell shock" even though I discovered it was already being called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the seventies. Other Vietnam veterans decided they were not going to keep dying without getting help to heal.
There were groups all over the country fighting for it, researching it and yes, even healing it.
Now looking back on over three decades of joining the battle for their lives, I am stunned by the fact the younger generation knows less than we knew back then. They do not just have computers with internet connecting them to others, they walk around with that ability on their phones. So how did we know more facts than they do?
Now that everyone is listening to their struggles with what war did, how is it that no one is hearing the truth?
They talk about "22 a day" when the truth is we are talking about at least seventy a day committing suicide and most of them are from our generation. The VA reported that over 78% of them within the VA are dying by their own hands.
The VA study found that the percentage of older veterans with a history of VA healthcare who committed suicide actually was higher than that of veterans not associated with VA care. Veterans over the age of 50 who had entered the VA healthcare system made up about 78 percent of the total number of veterans who committed suicide - 9 percentage points higher than the general pool.So how do we get them to hear us now? How do we get the rest of the country to actually listen to what we live with, or more importantly, how we stay together for decades? My husband and I have been married for over thirty years but a lot of our friends are into their fortieth anniversaries. We want to help the younger ones do the same but they will not listen to us. I guess it is easier for them to think they are the only ones going through all this.
I remember a conversation I had with a young wife and she thought I did not understand anything she was going through because I was old. She couldn't understand I was young once too.
Our parents taught us how to use typewriters and adding machines. We taught our kids how to use computers and calculators. Then we had to learn to use cell phones and remote controls to change the station. We had to learn how to communicate in their world with Facebook, Twitter and texting (which I still will not do unless it is an emergency) topped off with making videos for them because they do not like to actually read much.
We always wanted to make their lives easier than we had it. We want to help them learn what we had to learn the hard way. To know that PTSD does not have to destroy their marriages. That they can heal from what it is doing to them but our own generation has not gotten that message as the suicide rate among us grows. So when do the rest of us listen that it is not impossible?
When do all of us understand that no one fights in combat alone and no one needs to fight this battle alone?
We taught them, then had to adapt to keep up with them and we did it. So how is it that our generation is left behind all they talk about? It isn't that we are not talking. They are just not listening. So the silence on our end, yet again is simply because they do not hear what we have to say. Full circle.