The VAF’s second Podcast

Listen to our second podcast as I interview Matt Mack, a combat veteran from the early days of Iraq.  He was blown up by a suicide bomber in a car and lived to tell the tale.  Hear what it’s like to survive and recover from a bombing.

New Path?

The other day for the first time in at least 15 years, I felt peace. It didn’t come from a person, thing (though the iPad helps), but a place.

It wasn’t a church, where I expected it to come from, but a small yoga studio in town pushed me towards where I needed to be. The studio sits near the ferry to Gillette’s Castle in East Haddam, CT. It looks like an apartment building and probably is some sort of co-op.

When I walked in that night, the dim lights, waterfall, and eastern music just took the edge away immediately. Martial Arts, therapy and regular exercise had never done that before. It was intense to say the least.

I’ve changed, my life’s changed since then. Not for the worse. I hope at least. My girlfriend of four years and I will go our separate ways. She to LA and I am headed to school. The anger’s left us for the most

I attribute the change, at least some of it, to that day. For the better, I hope. I’ve seen my dreams of becoming a cop dashed and need to refocus on writing and film.

Waterbury Police Department Training

Training police about veterans’ issues can be a tricky endeavor.  Police on the whole are a tough group to break through when face to face during instructions.  One has to reach out to them on a level playing field.  Cops are reserved as a group and individually.  A great deal of veterans are officers of the law and that may help.

Veterans are slowly but surely causing issues within the criminal justice system.  Domestic violence, dui’s, alcohol, and drug abuse are becoming prevalent in our generation.  No one’s immune, in our cohort.  Whether you suffer or cause suffering isn’t always the issue.  Others around you will, and ignoring it will cause it to escalate to an epidemic.

Facing a group of police is nerve wracking when leading a discussion panel and questions and answers.  In order to reach them, you must make them understand   Cops usually respond to gallows humor, but today, mine fell short.  They listened carefully, sans one aloof officer, who didn’t keep his smirks to himself.  (I may have misinterpreted his ticks though).

Chris and I taught police signs of PTSD, depression, identifying and coping mechanisms for veterans.  We also share how to deescalate potentially violent situations through empathy.  In the end, some police officers approached us with questions and complements.  One of the greatest things we’ve heard has been “this has been the greatest training I’ve ever had in X years.”  It’s flattering and means we have reached at least some level of understanding within the law enforcement community.

Vets Killing Themselves

I’m not going to go over the stats, the news stories, the army’s stance, etc.   Those are already covered enough in the media and blogging world.  My best friend who survived Fallujah, Najaf, and other major campaigns, a silver star recipient, has known three people who’ve committed the act.  By way of gun and car crash.  As of this post, no one I know has killed themselves, unfortunately I don’t think that will hold.

I personally suffer from major depression, permanently brought on by wartime experience.  (50% disability for that alone)  I’ve struggled with it since I was 18, (which I found amazing the VA awarded me the disability, I was honest with them) caused by repeated blows to my head during a terrible fist fight.  I haven’t been the same.  Suicide’s always a way out I guess, but it’s the end all.  Final.  I’m fairly certain that it won’t ever be a serious thought in my head.

This ‘epidemic’ has just begun.  As the war(s) close down and soldiers filter back into the U.S. and society in general, there will be more self bloodshed.  56,000 vets died in Vietnam, during the conflict.  I’ve heard more than double that killed themselves in the ensuing years.  Those statistics will probably carry over into our conflict.

The VA, Army, and other groups have programs in place, but there’s more to be done.  Our foundation will help to alleviate some of the issues, including mine.  The most important roadblock is the stigma attached to admitting you’ve got a problem.  This is so strong it will prevent even the most self sufficient vet into backpedaling away from help.  I was basically told I was “weak” by a close army friend the other weekend, because I had issues, or at least admitted them.  It stung, but it wasn’t enough.  It’s too late, I’m seeking help.  Somehow that issue needs to be overcome and rectified, once that happens, healing can begin.

Combat Stress and Murder Part 1

Recently there’s been a spate of murders attributed to a unit out of Fort Carson, CO.  14 or so soldiers have been arrested in connection with homicides.  The mayhem was enough to warrant a study by the Army.

Normally the army sweeps some issues under the rug.  This time however, the bloodshed was so endemic that it was forced by the court of public opinion to investigate.  Some suggest combat stress compiled over multiple deployments led the outbreak.  The army however, may have different ideas.

I will be writing about this subject in coming days.  Anger, depression, violence, alcohol, and other issues with PTSD plague an untold number of vets going to war repeatedly.  You can decide.  I will include anecdotal evidence from myself with the essays.