The Journey Continues: Veteran's Day & The Cost Of War
I am a Christian and a Veteran — both are deeply woven into my journey. Veterans share a camaraderie and the warmth of brotherhood when we meet. I always say, “I know your heart” due to our military experiences.
There were around 20.4 million U.S. veterans in 2016, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs website. Texas is one of the top three states, with a veteran population of 1.3 million. The Veterans Service Officer for Hays County Jude Prather said that there are over 13,000 veterans in this county. Gulf War-era veterans now account for the largest share of all U.S. veterans, surpassing Vietnam-era veterans in 2016.
For some veterans the transition from active duty to civilian life seemed easy, but for others the transition brought no peace. "Service to the Nation” comes with a cost.
All veterans give up the safety and security of their own homes. All leave behind family and friends. Too many come home wounded, maimed or haunted by the nightmarish images of war causing PTSD or suicide.
I quote from The New York Times Opinion Piece "Suicide Is Deadlier Than Combat for the Military" by Carol Giacomo (Nov. 2, 2019): “The Pentagon has made strides in getting help to those in need, but the rate of deaths has been rising. The latest Pentagon figures show that more than 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have killed themselves in the past 6 years. That is more than 20 deaths a day — in other words, there are more suicides each year than the total American military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
With great respect, I quote Mark Graves, father of Jacob “Jake” Alexander Graves, a 2003 graduate of the San Marcos Baptist Academy, enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 17 and served honorably in Iraq with the First Cavalry Division, 3rd BN, 3/82nd Field Artillery. These are Graves’ words: “Relief came to our family when Jake returned from combat; never did I realize that he was entering a new battle which he tragically lost on April 12, 2018 at age 32.”
“Jake’s official cause of death was accidental overdose and not suicide," Graves said. "Having said that, and as a former law-enforcement investigator, Brother Jim, you and I can agree that although he did not commit suicide, his actions and choices revolving around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and combat injury all led toward a suicidal ‘lifestyle’ that he could not control by himself — or even admit that he had a problem until it was too late. Veterans services are still quite cumbersome and often impossible to use due to a difficult bureaucracy. Often, it falls back on the soldier in the trench who can only understand the gravity of a soldier in need.
“I have learned that PTSD can be very slow and insidious killer of our warriors," Graves said. "I have now seen how a mind can be influenced negatively by the wages of war. Our response as family and friends to a warrior coming home with PTSD is often not enough, despite our sincere efforts.
“If we are losing 22 vets a day to suicide, I can only wonder how many additional veterans we lose per day due to the opioids that our injured veterans get hooked on that begins a spiral to death. I don’t know how many of the yearly 60,000 overdose deaths are veterans, but I could guess it is a formidable number which could be added to the ‘22 suicide-deaths per day’ of veterans.”
Jerri Graves, Jake’s grandmother, along with his parents, claim God’s rest and deliverance. She gave me Psalm 91, the Soldier’s Psalm.
I remember veterans who fought and died with us and for us. To be remembered is to live.
I believe no veteran comes home unchanged. There is a Veterans Crisis Line staffed 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (press#1). Services are also available online or by texting 838255. If I can help, call me at 512-216-9519.