Stop the Stigma! Be the solution, not the problem!

Stop the Stigma! Be the solution, not the problem!

July 2010 ~ The message is simple!  STOP the STIGMA!  Our troops, you know the ones… those who are willing to step up and defend our nation, those who are willing to sacrifice their lives just for me and you…. they need us to get our heads out of the sand and they need us to do it NOW!

Most of us think that serving in the military is a job for somebody else.  We rather not face the fact that it takes all of us working together to keep this nation afloat.  We have not been made to physically experience life in a war zone, with the exception, perhaps, of 9/11 which for most of us was something to watch on television.  The trauma of that event moves further back in our memory with each day that we move forward from that dreadful day.

Let us be reminded that FREEDOM is NEVER FREE!  Since the birth of our nation there has always been someone willing to sacrifice their life so that you can live yours.  Instead of pointing fingers of blame at our politicians, let’s reshape the way we look at this never ending War on Terror and the way it is currently impacting our military families.

Military Leaders - you continue to state that there is no stigma. You have told us that you encourage our troops struggling with PTSD to come forward and get the help they deserve.  Your actions speak a lot louder than your words.  Newsflash!  Those who believed your words are now Prisoners of War within the Wounded Warrior units across this country.  Many have decided that suicide is the only way out.  When confronted with this reality, you choose to punish those who have the courage to scream for help and bully those family members who advocate for their Prisoner of War.  Instead of helping those in need, you are stripping these men and women of their dignity and their benefits. How would you feel if I treated your child in the same manner that you have treated mine?  These men and women have defined themselves with their sacrificial service and allegiance to defend and protect our nation and their brothers-in-arms.  How can one ever recover from the notion that Semper Fidelis is nothing more than a bumper sticker on the back of your car? I don’t know if you’ve realized it, but you have American blood on your hands. How does it feel?

US Department of Veterans Affairs - Those of you who work for the VA may have good intentions but we all know where that road takes us if we don’t follow through with our promises.  I realize you are overworked and understaffed, but put a smile on your face and try to make a difference while you are at work today. I always hear Veterans complaining about the poor quality of service and I often hear VA employees expressing their disappointment and frustration with the system.  What I don’t hear is talk of people stepping up to make a difference.  Instead of complaining, speak up and fight for changes that you know are necessary.  Don’t be afraid of losing your job. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and demand change.  You will be going against the current, but if you talk long enough and loud enough, others will join you.  Remember you don’t have to wear the uniform to serve your country. Thank you to those who are already fighting for change.

Lawmakers - every one of you has Veterans and active duty troops among your constituents.  They have served on your behalf, so start doing your job and serve on their behalf. You took an oath which includes these words  “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic….. bear true faith and allegiance to the same…. take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…..will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office……”

There are a few of you out there doing all the work, and for that I thank you, but it’s not enough.  Most of you have liaisons who do all the work for you.  They listen to our complaints.  They write your letters and stamp them with your signatures.  They wait the required 30 days for a response, which actually turns into 90+ days of waiting.  When they finally receive a report from the military, filled with comments that discredit the reputation of the constituent and deny any wrong doing, your liaison replies to us with the military’s response, along with a token letter, with YOUR signature, telling us of your enthusiasm to have worked on the situation. We are always encouraged to contact you if you can do anything else to help!  Do you know how ignorant you appear when it’s obvious that you didn’t even read the military’s response carefully enough to see that nothing was investigated? You really should be ashamed of yourselves.  You just assume that the constituent is off their rocker and the military has all their ducks in a row.  If you took the time to get to know your constituents and take a look at their evidence, you would realize that things are not always what they seem.

Can you not remember back to a time in your life when you were just a regular guy like the rest of us?  What good does it do to initiate an inquiry if you don’t even take the time to verify the findings yourself?  You don’t want to be bothered with what is really going on, and though I have letters signed by many of you, I have reason to believe that you have never heard my name or that of my Marine.  Your liaisons have been trained to get rid of us and few will truly listen to what we are saying. Instead, they wait for us to take a breath and then they read the reply on the instruction card taped next to the phone. Might I remind you that these military officers are not the ones who have the power to vote you into office during the next election.

Your career is far too important and you are busy with the requests of people who will further your career, rather than those who are stained with stigma and bearing the scars of war.  Frankly, you have blood on your hands, as well.  We voted for you because you said you would take care of us.  You are a public SERVANT.  You have the power to STOP the STIGMA so start serving and make a difference in the lives of our veterans as well as the lives of our nation’s wounded warriors wasting away in the now infamous ‘Warehouses of Despair.’

Citizens – we, too, must change the way we operate.  For those of you who are working diligently to support our troops and veterans, I thank you.  I have found that most volunteers have a personal connection to our troops.  What about the rest of you? Serving our nation is not for other people to do.  The last time I checked, this country did not have a Royal Family, so stop acting like you are above obligation.  There are countless ways you can help STOP the STIGMA that faces our veterans returning from war.

You can support their families while they are deployed.  Random acts of kindness such as mowing a lawn or babysitting can go a long way to help a young wife take a much needed break during a year long deployment.

You can get involved in a nonprofit organization that is trying to help our wounded, but don’t simply donate and walk away.  Roll up your sleeves and volunteer.  While you are there, push for programs which will help those suffering with PTSD and mild Traumatic Brain Injury. We always seem to migrate toward the groups which are helping those with physical injuries.  It is my belief that those with invisible wounds outnumber those with physical wounds but because of the stain of stigma, their voices go unheard.  Instead of donating to a national organization that already has celebrity spokespeople and millions of dollars to spend, find a local organization and get personally involved in rebuilding the lives of the veterans living in your backyard.

If you have the credentials to help with the mental health care crisis of PTSD, you owe it to your community to give your time to those who have given you the right to choose your career.  Every doctor and counselor out there should have a couple of hours a week that they could donate to see a veteran at no charge.  Veterans in crisis are waiting months to get an appointment at the VA.  Their family members need counseling as well.  Just ask anyone that lives with a combat veteran.

Employers need to hire veterans.  The unemployment rate, as well as the rate of homelessness is extremely high among our veterans.  The stigma has permeated the community and no one wants to “take a chance” that a veteran might have PTSD and make things a little bit difficult.  Did it ever occur to you that if we just welcomed these heroes into our businesses and let them know that we cared about them and trusted them, they would likely become our best employees?  If they have some issues that require modifications, is that really such a sacrifice for you to make?  In the end, what is the wisest investment for your company?  Is it the Almighty Dollar or is it the opportunity to change lives?

We need to go to our lawmakers who will be more likely to do something if we all stand up and complain.  I challenge you to set up a simple Google Alert with some key words such as PTSD, TBI, or the name of the military base located closest to your home.  Your email box will be flooded with news and you will quickly realize the magnitude of this situation.  Take a few minutes out of your day to educate yourself on the crisis facing our military families and our veterans and start making your representative earn his/her paycheck.  Write them, call them, email them, or drop by and visit their office.  Insist on action and follow up with the results.  Don’t just go to representatives in your community.  Try contacting representatives from other states.  They should ALL have at least one constituent worthy of their time and attention to these issues.  If I just settled for the representatives in my state, I’m pretty sure my Marine would be a statistic rather than a living, breathing body.  Believe it or not, it is YOUR responsibility to bring concerns to the attention of those we have elected.  You really have no right to complain about your representative if you have not first gone to that individual and made it clear what it is he should be doing for you.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln said it best in his Gettysburg Address:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Originally published by the author at