Hays: New beginningsWritten by Pam Hays | | email@example.com
What I love about flipping the calendar page to a new year is that feeling of being able to begin anew. We can’t truly begin with a clean slate as we are all a compilation of our past experiences, both good and bad, but the new year brings with it that feeling of second or third chances, to resolve what we want in life and come up with a new plan.
Having the honor to assist our veterans, who are many times struggling to begin new lives, has given me a greater appreciation of new beginnings as well as the challenges of going from a member of the military to a civilian. It seems to those of us who have never faced such a transition that they should be happy they no longer have to wear what someone tells them to wear and be where someone tells them to be and eat what someone serves to them. It would especially seem that it would be nothing but a great thing to have the possibility of losing your life in theater (war zone) taken off the table.
But, over and over again I hear from our veterans, “I would go back if I could.” Serving in the military is not just what they do; it becomes who they are. When they decide their time in service is over and don’t re-enlist, it is difficult to make the transition. When they have to leave the military due to injury, the transition becomes more complicated.
Our communities have many veterans with the invisible wounds of a traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress. Making their transition to civilian life is challenging, especially on their own. It is easy to see reports on television or commercials and get the impression that all of the needs of our wounded warriors are being taken care of. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
One barrier this group of veterans with invisible wounds faces is that their injuries can’t be seen with the eye and are therefore not thought of as real or considered great barriers on living a quality life, as an amputation injury would be. Yet, the invisible injuries can bring even greater challenges to employment, financial goals, relationships and maybe most importantly, how a veteran views him or herself as a productive, purposeful members of the community. The greatest barrier might not be the injuries themselves as much as it is the lack of understanding and empathy for their injuries. If I lined up all the veterans I have assisted in the past four years, I doubt looking at them would evoke much empathy.
You would think they might have the world by the tail, because their physical selves don’t match the great inner turmoil they face daily living with brain injury or post-traumatuc stress disorder (PTSD). But if I told you their stories, I doubt many of you would be able to keep tears from your eyes and I bet many would be shocked by what they have gone through — not in the service, but here at home in the community!
Education through speaking engagements and trainings, events such as The Arms Forces’ Dancing With The Military Stars where we honor individual veterans and families, and articles such as this are how we will change the perception that the only wounds that deserve funding, attention or empathy are those that can be seen.
The needs they have are not short-lived; they can’t be resolved with a weekend sporting event. They can’t be resolved by asking them to mark boxes on paper to get to know them. They can’t be resolved with only throwing money at their problems. It goes back to the saying about giving them a fish or teaching them to fish. We can pay rent this month, but next month if they face the same issues, what then? We can send them to a sporting event but when they come back home and face the same challenges, what then?
Listening to veterans, understanding their challenges and partnering with them to meet their needs by utilizing community services available to them not only saves the community money, it is the right thing to do. That is what we do at The Arms Forces.
Pam Hays is president and founder of The Arms Forces, www.thearms forces.org; (419) 891-2111; Facebook.com/thearmsforces.