Hays: The roseWritten by Pam Hays | | firstname.lastname@example.org
What do a rose and our veterans have in common?
The rose was my mother’s favorite flower. She grew them in abundance in our yard when I was growing up and one of my favorite songs is “The Rose” by Bette Midler. I was thinking about that song and the rose as it pertains to those who are challenged in life with invisible mental and physical injuries and wounds. Yes, that is how my brain works!
The rose consists of many parts, including the petals, the filaments, the ovaries and a part I found very interesting — especially with my comparison to people who have invisible challenges — the stigma. When all the petals fall away, the stigma remains. It sits atop the style rising from the center of the petals and originating from the ovary.
I share this comment often in my speeches and trainings: “Stigma does not breed in the hearts of our veterans; it breeds in the hearts of the members of the community and organizations.” Invisibly wounded veterans get blamed for the stigma. It would be like saying that the stigma grows from the petals of a flower, when clearly science has shown that not to be true.
Veterans only have issues with stigma from their invisible wounds because the community is not educated thoroughly. By community, I mean the general public, employers, the people who work at social service agencies, government entities, schools, etc. The comments and attitudes many people have when approached by someone who looks “normal” in the world’s view of what is normal, meaning no visible signs of disability, reflect impatience, judgment and a curt attitude that shows no attempt at understanding.
Those seeking services are expected to do more and understand more than those with clearly visible wounds because they don’t look disabled. The services for them don’t match their needs. Just because they can walk into the office to seek help doesn’t mean they have an easier time than someone who can’t walk in that does not have mental or physical changes to their brain. You can’t just ask for an assistance tool for your brain and walk away with newfound freedoms to live life with invisible wounds.
As my doctor said to me, “We don’t do brain transplants, you just have to learn to live your life.” Really? Guidance would have been a lot more helpful than just an empty comment when my life was falling apart due to my own severe brain injury. My budding new life did not create its own stigma. Those surrounding me, especially those I sought help from, made it clear the services I reached out to were for people with all other disabilities except the one I had — residual deficits from a traumatic brain injury.
I learned over a period of nine years, that if I wanted to have any kind of purposeful life again, it would not be because of some outside provider. No matter how much money was spent by the government or given in donations to nonprofits, that did zero to help me find my path in life once again, though they talked a good game.
This is the same struggle our veterans face in mass numbers every day. In your community, there are veterans who are falling through the cracks. They are silently suffering because they know they are ridiculed for needing help because they don’t look the part. They are cast aside from events and benefits because those with more visible wounds look more “worthy.”
Sometimes the veterans create thorns, those things that keep people away so they don’t have to be hurt again by the lack of understanding and services. Their thorns are isolation, substance abuse, anger and, far too often, suicide and homelessness.
Just as the petals of a rose don’t all fall off at once, the veteran begins to lose one petal in life after the other, until hope for a better life is diminished. All the while, other veterans get trips, homes, health care services and benefits. Why? Understanding is the sustenance that begins new growth and emboldens our veterans to the hope that leads to better lives!
Pam Hays is president and founder of The Arms Forces, www.thearmsforces.org; (419) 891-2111; Facebook.com/thearmsforces.