Generations Of Nebraska Warriors: Solutions
August 22nd, 2014
Lincoln, NE –Â The annual Veteranâ€™s Freedom Music Festival in Lincoln is a day of song, but also a way to connect veterans with a variety of resources.
Rows of tents, the kind that pop-up quickly at kids sporting events, surround the crowd. Theyâ€™re occupied by various groups that serve those who served in the military. One stands out. Itâ€™s camouflage, something youâ€™re more likely to see on a battlefield than a soccer field. Hereâ€™s where members of the Marine Corps League are hanging out. Veterans like Kevin Barret, who spent about 20 years in the Marines and fought in places like Iraq and Grenada. He came home with wounds from a grenade, and PTSD.
â€œI couldnâ€™t do that group therapy because it just drove me nuts,â€ Barret said. â€œI couldnâ€™t connect with nobody cause no one in there was a Marine. The (Marine Corps) League itself saved my life.â€
â€œItâ€™s hard to talk about this stuff, but it sure is great to have a bunch of brothers and sisters to talk to about it and lean on when you need them,â€ added Gulf war veteran and Marine Corps League member Steve Phillips.
Itâ€™s a message we heard over and over again while talking with Nebraska combat veterans for our â€œGenerations of Nebraska Warriorsâ€ project; nothing helps deal with the impacts of war like connecting with other veterans.
â€œItâ€™s not often though that you get someone that is sympathetic and empathetic and thatâ€™s what you get when you have a discussion with a veteran,â€ said Dave Spry, a former Marine and veteran of the brutal battle of Khe Sanh in Vietnam.
â€œFor a conversation to happen, you have to find somebody who actually fought,â€ said Marty Ramirez, an Army veteran who like Spry was wounded in Vietnam. â€œBecause when we start talking, itâ€™s like we were there yesterday.â€
Veterans we talked to say there are more formal resources now than there used to be for those who need help. Vietnam veterans in particular say support was almost non-existent when they returned. But even when help is available, some donâ€™t use it.
Jenny Bos and A.J. Bloebaum are Army National Guard soldiers who came under fire running convoys in Iraq.
â€œItâ€™s just whether or not the person wants to seek them out,â€ Bos said.
â€œItâ€™s the big thing,â€ Bloebaum continued. â€œMost people are too proud to get themselves help.â€
Anita Curington, a full-time Army National Guard soldier and commander whoâ€™s been in Iraq, believes there used to be a career-killing stigma that went along with soldiers getting help.
â€œThe leadership from the top down has spent at least six years now that I know of trying to get rid of that stigma,â€ Curington said. â€œThat itâ€™s not going to be detrimental to your career. Thereâ€™s not going to be any repercussions. Get the help that you need. I donâ€™t know that thatâ€™s filtrated all the way through, but we have made a concerted effort to make sure that folks know if you need help, please go get it.â€
So how can people who havenâ€™t been to war help those who have?
â€œI want them to have compassion for the veteran,â€ said Jim Cada, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. â€œI believe unless youâ€™ve been there, youâ€™ll never understand it completely. Unless youâ€™ve felt the fear and you hear the bullets and the bombs and all the other crap that goes on, I donâ€™t think you can understand it.â€
Cada and his friend, Greg Holloway, who was wounded three times in Vietnam, say itâ€™s also important to understand what not to ask.
â€œDid you shoot somebody,â€ Cada responded, when asked what question about war he dislikes. â€œOr how many people did you shoot? I mean what the heck, you canâ€™t answer that.â€
â€œOr how did you kill somebody,â€ Holloway added.
â€œItâ€™s like if you didnâ€™t shoot somebody, then you werenâ€™t in combat,â€ said Kim Moore, an Army National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan.
â€œItâ€™s not a video game,â€ Curington said. â€œWar is not Call of Duty or Halo or any of those other games.â€
The bottom line, Curington said, is help those who need help, get help.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of inside wounds,â€ Curington said, â€œand if somebody is struggling, if youâ€™re a family member or a friend of a veteran, learn what those signs and symptoms are so that you can recognize them and get them to some help. Because they may be struggling and drowning and theyâ€™re proud people and theyâ€™re just not going to say anything.
â€œYou got to do it. You canâ€™t sit back and wait,â€ Barret said, talking about getting help.
â€œDonâ€™t let somebody drag you there,â€ added Marine Corps League member Cody Sparks, a veteran of two deployments to Afghanistan.
â€œIt just gets worse and worse if you donâ€™t do anything with it,â€ Phillips said, â€œbecause I tried to ignore it for a long time and it doesnâ€™t work.â€
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