Unintended Consequences…

Scott Lee, over at PASP – Combat PTSD HQ, replied to a comment on the blog which got me thinking about the relationships we (as a society) have with veteran’s and the unintended consequences of war.  Scott wrote:

I appreciate your comment and opinion. I understand that a person may wear an item to remind them of another. I wear my memorabilia to display a remembrance of a past war, my war, the Gulf War.

I welcome an open hearted question on the significant of the symbols I wear today. I am at a point in my life where I recognize the anger and animosity felt within and take responsibility for it. By doing so I do not project it onto other people or make others accountable for it, the consequence being acceptance. Today I wear symbols of integrity and character, to remind me that I can achieve my goals even in the face of great adversity.

There was a time that I wore them for other reasons, to immortalize the guilt I still carry today. I left my guys over there, we killed literally thousands upon thousands of Iraqi soldiers, and finally the 30 soldiers that were trying to surrender. The insignias were my badges of guilt and shame, nothing that I wanted to share in a positive way.

When I wrote this piece I was reminded of the anger and rage I felt that encompassed my being and perspective. I was ready to explode and any excuse was the ember that could spark an inferno. I remember that a well formed question could offset this demeanor and open a reverence and grieving process whereby I could speak of the emotional pain. I was both of these people along with many others.

I see the wisdom in your response and accept it as a reminder that most people want to seek answers that only a combat veteran could expound upon. Today I honor this responsibility too speak on the reality of war and the devastating effects upon the person, family and community.

Scott’s journey is relevant not only to combat veterans but veteran’s of less tangible wars as well.  The “War on Drugs” comes immediately to mind.  The acceptance and accountability for personal actions, regardless of the war being waged are critical steps forward in reclaiming life and personal dignity.  I applaud and acknowledge Scott for having the courage to serve this country.  A courage that has sustained him in his re-entry to a world vastly different than the one he left upon deployment, if for no other reason than the personal experiences obtained in a foreign land.

I honor Scott’s willingness to share those experiences and serve as a teacher to each of us engaged in our own personal wars.  The dichotomy expressed in this post speaks directly to the unintended consequences and long term implications far removed from a single event or series of events.

Have you ever experienced war in your personal relationships as a result of steadfastly holding onto dysfunctional personal beliefs?  Have you ever overcome adversity only to succumb to the pressures of guilt and remorse?  Conversely, have you ever failed at something and fallen into the depths of despair and shame?  All to often, the realms of guilt, remorse, desperation, and shame consume and enshrine life with insignias of drug and/or alcohol abuse.  When this happens it commonly results in a criminal arrest and conviction.

The potential for these unintended consequences are with us all, veteran and non-veteran alike.  They are just more pronounced with returning combat veterans and aggravated by experiences most cannot even imagine.  It is one thing to watch the movie or listen to the sound bites of life and something else entirely to live it.  As a society, we would do well to remove the judgment and condescending attitudes and replace them with a sincere desire to learn and to embrace the inherent differences in each of us.

The former provides the energy necessary to sustain the disease, while the latter provides an opportunity for healing and growth.  Only when we stop blaming other people or things can we become accountable for our own actions and progress on the healing path.  Put another way, when we proceed with curiosity and pose well formed questions it becomes possible to learn and to heal.  On the other hand, when we arrive with the answers and proclaim that our judgment is infallible the cancerous growth of anger, bigotry, hatred, and violence continues.

In our struggle for safe, sustainable communities, and freedom the unintended consequences include those things we most fear.  As a nation, we are willing to go to war in the name of freedom to protect our interests and liberties at home and abroad.  But the price is one of less freedom or personal liberty at home.  This is particularly true for our combat veterans who willingly placed their lives on the line day after day and upon their return are met with bureaucratic disdain and animosity.

The latter is made significantly worse whenever veterans become trapped in the criminal justice system, when heroes become villains.

Meanwhile, over at the Crime Report:

A new study, “Criminal Justice Involvement of Armed Force Veterans in Two Systems of Care,” compared criminal justice involvement of veterans before and after receiving services from community-based programs of the Veterans Health Administration  or a state Department of Mental Health. The study found veterans who received mental health services had a reduction in criminal justice charges.

Which ultimately leads to this question: what might happen if we began knocking down the walls of bureaucracy that intentionally impede re-entry and healing instead of building new ones?  Might we save a few heroes and redeem a few villains?