It is important for those who have never served to take a moment to understand the solitary world of Veterans.
Millions of Veterans are and have been successful in all endeavors. They are doctors, lawyers, business people, and a thousand other professions. Not all have PTSD; not all are the troubled, brooding, street corner homeless guy, although they exist and need help desperately.
No matter how successful Veterans might be, more often than not, Veterans are often alone, mentally and spiritually each day and for the rest of their lives.
Veterans stories are all different, but some elements of the common experience exist.
They also lived a daily camaraderie that cannot be repeated in the civilian world. In fact, many veterans spend the rest of their lives seeking the same esprit de corps that simply is absent from their civilian lives and jobs.
They long to spend just 15 minutes back with the best friends they ever had, friends that are scattered to every corner of the earth, and some to the afterlife itself.
All Veterans have these thoughts nearly every day. Some may experience them for fractions of a second, or for minutes at a time. They replay over and over again like an endless 24-hour war movie.
Part of the solitary world of the veterans is being able to enjoy complete bliss doing absolutely nothing.
This is a trait grating to civilians who must constantly search for endless stimuli. Unbeknownst to them, the greatest thrill of all is just being alive.
A lot of veterans have an Obi-wan Kenobi calmness. After what they went through, how bad can anything really be?
So many, if not all Veterans are haunted by visions of horror and death, by the guilt of somehow surviving and living the good life, when some they knew are gone. They sometimes, strangely wish that they were back in those dreadful circumstances, not to experience the dirt and horror and terror and noise and violence again, but to be with the only people a Vet really knows, other Veterans. As a result, they walk around each day lost in their own special story.
Most civilians are oblivious to the solitary life of the Veteran. But, it’s there. It’s the same eternal and universal philosophy, whether you fought in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq or Afghanistan. The experiences may have been different, but the emotions are the same.
A problem with the solitary world of the vet is that the Veterans have a hard time explaining what he or she did to those who didn’t serve. Some vets want to talk, but they have no outlet. Maybe their only outlet is watching a war movie or reading a book about the conflict they were in.
How often do people say, “Grandpa never talks about Korea.” That’s because Grandpa knows no one can understand except other vets. That’s because Grandpa knows most people don’t care.
Civilians must understand that for Veterans nothing is ever the same again. Their senses can be suddenly illuminated by the slightest sound or smell or sights of death all around, a living version of Dante’s Inferno; sounds so loud that they can only be described as Saving Private Ryan in surround sound on steroids; smells vast and horrific; rotting death, burning fuel and equipment, rubber, animals and…people.
Part of this taciturn mentality is that vets speak another language, a strange and archaic language of their past.
How do you talk to civilians about “fire for effect” or “grid 7310” or “shake and bake” or “frag orders” or “10 days and a wake up” or a thousand and one other terms that are mystifying to the real world?
All of this adds to the solitary world of the vet. Some are better at handling life afterward than others. Some don’t seem affected at all, but they are. They just hide it. Some never return to normal. But, what is normal to a vet anymore?