Like many of you, I've been listening to the news about the increasingly tragic and widening VA scandal. It made me angry. It made me sad. And then it became personal.
My nephew is twenty-four, maybe 160 pounds sopping wet. He has a ready smile and an "it is what it is" mentality about life. He joined the Marines as much on a dare as out of personal desire. His sister made a wonderful career for herself in the Navy as a chef, and when he threw out the idea that he might join the Marines, someone laughed at him, telling him he'd never survive Basic Training, and that was that.
He did survive Basic. His sister trained with him all summer to prepare him for the Marines' grueling demands. He was a mechanic by trade and served one tour in Afghanistan working on helicopters.
Having a trade didn't absolve him from the regular Marine Corps work like guard duty, honor tours, and time at the battle front. I knew he came home with PTSD, but it was only a few days ago that he opened up about what he had seen and done that left him unable to sleep or enjoy "down time."
I knew he had applied for his VA benefits over a year ago. His young back is in frequent pain from a fall off a helicopter, and he needs therapy to help him deal with the trauma of war, but months, and then more than a year have passed with no word from the VA that promised to be there for him when he got home.
He works a inadequate full-time job plus as many side jobs as he can find. He needs the income to pay his rent and other expenses, but mostly, he says he wants to be busy. He doesn't like to be idle. He doesn't want to give his mind a chance to think or remember.
So my nephew, like many vets in your circle, is in the VA nexus of neglect. They suffer silently for the most part, trying to appear as if they're doing fine, when in fact, they are hurting, aching, suffering over split-second decisions they or others made in a crazy place where the enemy doesn't play by the rules of morality to which our men and women are held to account.
So look around you today. If you know a vet, you probably know someone whose mind still returns to a place we do not want to fully understand. If they have been turned down or delayed by the VA, get out your pen and paper and join in their fight.
That's how we can best honor these men and women. Our brave ones.