Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Sometimes we are stopped dead in our tracks. Sometimes by three words. Three words that diminish and yet solidify our passion. Three words that inspire, motivate, and tackle whatever it is we might be doing. Three words that, if you are any kind of person at all, force you to change direction in the blink of an eye.
In the midst of tackling piles of paperwork yesterday and making some sort of progress, I was joggled back into a dense reality by a phone call. I didn't recognize the area code and there was no caller id. But something told me to answer.
As I picked up the phone and said hello, the male voice on the other end simply said, "I need help!
I knew instantly who it was. It was every soldier back from war with PTSD. Every soldier taught to fight and kill and witness atrocities, so horrible that their every waking hour is haunted by the memory. Every soldier who will never be the same again. Every soldier who ever served our country to keep the enemy at bay, every soldier who has given his life, perhaps not literally in all cases, but gave his life regardless.
I took a deep breath and simply said, "Okay, how can I help?" He said "My name is SSGT C. I have two Purple Hearts, one Bronze Star, and one Silver Star. I served in Iraq four and a half years. I live in the woods in Pennsylvania out of fear."
I listened. There is no way he could have known it, but from his first words, I held his heart in my hand.
SSGT C has a dog that is his 'battle buddy.' A little dog that is his lifeline, his link to some sort of sanity, his 'best friend and the only thing he can trust.' He can't sleep, he can't leave the woods and as he said, "No one has seen what I have seen." His life is hell. He called because he wants his dog to be able to journey back into the world with him. He wants to go to a store in a town, to a movie, to dinner at a restaurant. He doesn't want to live in fear with his adrenalin at its peak. He doesn't want to look for the enemy around every corner and suspect everyone he meets is out to kill him. He is not alone.
Without his dog he has greater anxiety. He expects to be hit as in combat without his little dog. His pup restores a sense of calm. You see SSGT C lost a lung, his legs are 'pinned' together, his face and torso severely burned and he has a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). He has Stage Three dimentia. He did this for you and me. For our freedom. For our country. For our children and grandchildren. He has severe short term memory loss.
And as if this isn't enough, he has slipped through the cracks somehow and has been denied insurance. The insurance we so willingly provide to illegals. (I shall spare you the burden of listening to me regarding this.) He was forced to wear a 'sandwich board' telling the world he served his country and has been severely injured and has no health insurance.
Okay I ask you how could anyone continue their day after this phone call. I have his photograph on my desk and will not post it. In it is a strong, determined soldier, with a uniform laden with ribbons and medals from four years in the Infantry. He told me he has all the financial help needed now, but that all he wants in the entire world is his dog to be certified as a service dog so that he can go out into public and resume some sort of normal life.
Here is a guy who gave his all. He will never be the same. He faces demons every second of every day. He sees bodies hanging in trees, in pieces on the street, he sees hell. And all he wants is his 'battle buddy' by his side.
"PTSD is occurring now at an alarming rate in Iraq and Afghanistan and the military can no longer sweep it under the rug by calling it battle field stress or cowardice. When have you seen a story about our wounded vets returning with severe cases of PTSD? Iraq and Afghanistan for mental disorders. More US military members have been slain by their own hand than by combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marine Sergeant who opened fire on and killed an Iraqi civilian woman who was reaching onto her bag for a white flag as she approached their checkpoint." ~stressproblems.com
Returning emotionally crippled, many of our soldiers and Marines face a future of fear, isolation, anger issues, and a very, very dark place where there is little hope. Many return home to commit suicide or murder. The last thing these men and women need is to be home to a place where there is no hope offered.
Perhaps there is no tidy ending to this story. Perhaps the ending is waiting to be written. Perhaps we are all still waiting to have the ending tied up with a nice pretty bow. But that is not happening. There needs to be and always is hope. But for now there is no nice pretty bow.
So I answer the phone. I do what I can. I offer hope.