Tag Archives: help

In the season of gratitude, is “thank you” enough?

This is the season for gratitude. From Veteran’s Day through the many faith-based celebrations clustered around the turning of the year, it is a time when we at least try to look beyond the glitter and find a reason to be grateful, a reason to have hope. In that spirit, now and through the year, we find ourselves wanting to thank those we feel helped to make this life possible. I often hear a brief conversation, a sentence or two at an event, that acknowledges the service of a veteran. Each time such brief moments make my heart hurt. I’m sorry, but “thank you” is not enough.

Photo by Mike Hashisaki, Plains, MT

My teen years were spent in the Vietnam era. I lived in a city that was surrounded by military bases and the cost of that commitment contributed much to how I perceive the world. There are those that will tell you it is mere urban legend that if our troops wore their uniforms when returning from active duty, they risked ridicule and abuse. No, no legend. I was there. Whatever my thoughts were on why we were there and how the “military action” was executed, I wept when I saw those who had suffered so much, who came home broken in ways not always obvious, abused in their own country. This is the root of my issue with “thank you for your service.” Even for today’s vets, it is not enough.

I like to find ways to actively pursue solutions, ways to help. I am a fixer, but I also like to be effective. Growing up with veterans, I learned a great deal of what went on in their heads, and I wanted to help. That sometimes requires finding out from the source of your compassion just what it is that is needed. Sometimes we get it right.

Veterans in this country face horrific statistics. According to the NIH in a report published on the Department of Veteran Affairs website, 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program in fiscal 2018. Programs included treatment for PTSS, substance use disorders, behavioral problems and a host of other issues. This number includes only those that accessed VA resources.

The 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the Department of Veteran Affairs notes that 6,000 vets commit suicide each year. This crosses gender and age boundaries. That is an average of 16 men and women each and every day.

While you are saying “thank you” to the spiffy looking fellow in a uniform at the local restaurant, are you thinking of the scruffy fellow on the sidewalk that hasn’t had a bath in who knows when? According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 9% of the homeless population in this country is made up of vets. Some 37,878 broken spirits; men and women who just don’t see a way to cope in society. Some, of course, choose to separate themselves from a society and a culture that cannot comprehend the places they’ve been and the things they have seen.

Doing what I do, even after years of accumulated stories and nights sitting up with friends dealing with things that would not leave their heads, I still felt it necessary to do the research. I asked a friend of mine if I could visit one evening and grill her husband on what he saw as the greatest need for vets today. His answer might surprise you; education and job placement support.

The GI Bill, established to provide help for education in trades or professions is an elusive benefit that changes with when you served, how long, and where. Vietnam was a battle ground between the president and congress and the legal status of Vets in the conflict was ambiguous at best. This impacted many of the benefits which may have been available to men and women who served in that theater.

The other issue he noted was job placement assistance. He felt that the least the military branches could do was to help veterans transition into civilian life. Knowing how to blow things up is not always a useful civilian skill. Leadership skills, logistics, technology, mechanics, construction, and a myriad of other skills most certainly are. During my interview he expressed his frustration when he returned home after his first term of service. He thought he was only suited for jobs in the security sector. Never really finding the right fit, he finally elected to re-enlist in a different branch. His second time home he was lucky. His mother-in-law pointed out that all of his time as a leader in the military had trained him as a manager. He applied to a position and found a new career. Even if a veteran had a solid career before serving, that job may no longer be a fit.

I don’t think it is important to find the perfect job. However, it is important to find a place that reconnects a person to society and gives them some sense of being of use, some sense of belonging. Part of transitioning to civilian life is adjusting to a less intense more loosely associated culture than the intense life or death relationships of foreign service. Success occurs in degrees; failure can be deadly.

Above all, we spend millions training our military personnel to do damage to others. That is what war is. Although we deploy to a few “nation building” exercises, such deployment often occurs in hostile environments. Even when stationed with allies, our military people are usually not culturally assimilated by the host nation. Military service is an intense training course on how NOT to deal with the society in which you find yourself. Then you come home, and there is no one there that can begin to understand that separation from the wider world while becoming ever more dependent on highly disciplined, insular core group.

Where does one go to help with such things? Not everyone has time (but some do), not everyone has money to donate (but some do). Sometimes it is a matter of letting someone know that there is a resource out there, they just need to reach out. Such as we have, we give – that’s why “thank you” is never quite enough.

With a little research, I found several organizations that specialize in job assessment and placement. Remember, the local VFW and American Legion posts are always willing to help sort things out. Both the VFW and American Legion often have counselors and staff to help a vet find the help needed. Local posts can be found on the websites (https://www.vfw.org/ and https://www.legion.org/).

Also, check out these links for information on how to get careers shifted back to a civilian focus.

http://www.veterans2work.org/veterans.html
https://www.militaryonesource.mil/military-life-cycle/separation-transition/employment-education/programs-that-hire-veterans
https://www.dav.org/veterans/employment-resources/

There are other ways to be proactive. There are many organizations that do amazing things such as providing companion dogs, offering financial assistance and counseling, and providing mental health services. There is also support such as Music Corp, Wounded Warrior Project, and Honor Flight. Final Salute is an organization that focuses on homeless women vets and their children. This season make it a point to find a better thank you.

https://www.finalsaluteinc.org/Home.html
https://www.honorflight.org/
https://www.operationhomefront.org/
https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/distcrt/services/mental-health-and-veterans-court/
http://nchv.org/index.php/getinvolved/getinvolved/how_you_can_help/
https://www.vetdogs.org/Default.aspx
https://veteransfamiliesunited.org/financial-assistance/
https://warriors1st.org/
http://www.musicorps.net/Home.html
https://www.workingdogsforvets.org/
https://tcvs.us/

 

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Reflections ~ Interesting Insights on Years Gone By

There is something about spring that invigorates a person. Or maybe it’s the end of the tax return pile. Whatever the case may be, I have begun to attack the pile of papers in my garage – with a vengeance.

In the interest of time, I have started with my archives of financial records. You do not want to know how far back this stuff goes – really. It can’t just be thrown away, it must be sorted and shredded – everything with a number, name, or address, must be converted into parade confetti. I chose to start with the financial records because, quite frankly, I could quote the record retention rules in my sleep. There are a few extenuating circumstances in my history, but, for the most part, the general rules hold. This means I can whip through these boxes with relative abandon. Unlike my husband’s records, I do not have to spend time deciding if I keep, scan, or convert something to unrecognizable ash. Nor do I have to decide if a pile of documents should be sent off to some company archivist.

There is a point to this meandering and that point has to do with the shredding of a few decades of a person’s life. Watching things disappear into the blades of the shredder can be therapeutic, disheartening, and sometimes sad. Here are some of the things I am remembering/discovering about the person that was, and is, me.

Sometimes arguments cannot be resolved. No matter how hard you try, some people will never understand why you will or will not do or say some particular thing they feel so very important. Newsflash — it isn’t important anymore. Why was there so much hurt wrapped up in the struggle?

I never thought of myself as an activist; I’m discovering that when things touch me in some important way I am very much so, and have been for a long time. Among the debris of so many years was a record of how I responded to one of the worst fire seasons Western Montana has ever suffered. The photo with this post was taken during the August 2000 fire in the Bitterroot National Forest. I honestly don’t recall if that was the same year that so much of the forests in Sanders and Kootenai Counties were in flames. There were three things I undertook to change or to help alleviate the burden our fires imposed.

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, August 6, 2000. Photo by John McColgan working for the Fairbanks, Alaska division of the Forest Service. The photo is public domain.

Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, August 6, 2000. Photo by John McColgan working for the Fairbanks, Alaska division of the Forest Service. The photo is public domain.

One was to find a way to help those that were accepting animals from areas burned or in danger of going up in flames. I contacted the Purina headquarters and they contacted their area distributors to mount a campaign to help reduce or eliminate the cost of feeding the four-legged refugees. One of the ranches accepting animals from all over the state called me personally to thank me.

Another thing I did was to contact Habitat for Humanity to ask them at the national level to look at the possibility of helping those who had lost their homes to the flames. Most people in Western Montana are pretty independent folks, and if helping someone raise a house or a barn was part of what was needed, then, well, let’s just get it done. I’m not sure if this initiative went very far. I think it was inherent in their policies that the person in need contact them.  They did make sure that the local chapter made their presence known.

Next I see that I wrote a long and impassioned letter to some government official, with FEMA, I believe. The letter was impassioned but it was also thoroughly researched. For whatever reason the federal agencies engaged in fighting the fires had decided that it was an actionable crime to assist in the firefighting unless you were certified and part of their crews. In Western Montana that meant that many logging and ranching families, with the appropriate equipment, and intimate knowledge of the lay of the land, were commanded to stand down. Even if their solution could stop another 1,000 acres or so igniting while they awaited “appropriate response.” This was a fire season so devastating that multiple agencies could provide no more help than 1 person per 100 acres in flames. I personally knew many families who, forced out of the field of battle, drew back, and simply fought for their own homes and acreage. Mandatory evacuation was not an option, it was a battle cry.

There are other bits and pieces. Things I volunteered for, people I contacted in hopes of matching up a need with a solution. For instance, finding a research program for a friend whose child had a rare form of epilepsy. All from my desk on the outskirts of a tiny town in Western Montana. No money, just a phone (on dial-up internet), some skill at putting thoughts together in a logical, impassioned order, and an apparent talent for finding people to talk to.

I guess I haven’t changed all that much. I may have better tools, better resources, a more mature sense of immediacy; but I still see my primary mission in life as finding a solution to problems. It’s not all that hard to give a bit of time here and there. We all have experiences that can help other folks. Very often we know of someone, somewhere who just might know how to fix a particular problem, or knows someone who can. Just make sure you know when to say “no” or nothing gets done. Believe me, I’ve been there, too.

Be a presence in the world that draws those who need you and your unique skills. Be the solution you want to see. Someday as you sit in front of a shredder, such things may give you hope that the fight is worth the effort.

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