2012 Update: And, again, another year has passed. They say time heals all wounds, but time also opens new ones. Many of us have lived through the effects of Hurricane Sandy or have loved ones or friends who have. Many over the last year have found footing in their lives, only to see if washed away to sea. And still, my friend is gone. His little girls will never get to know him. His community will never hear his laugh or benefit from his strength. My wife and I were talking about him, just this weekend. Still, my oldest and closest buddy, is gone.
2011 Update: It's hard to believe more than a year has passed since my friend passed. There are many days I just want to give him a call, tell him what I've been up to, share with him a new scheme or project. His time is over. But for many vets, there are still options. If you're a vet or you know one who needs help, please point him or her to the resources below.
Originally published on November 11, 2010
Today is Veterans Day in the United States, Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in other countries. Today is also the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.
Today is a day where we celebrate and thank our troops for putting their lives in harm's way, sacrificing and challenging themselves on behalf of a (not always) grateful nation.
Unfortunately, not all veterans are celebrated and not all veterans have a happy or fulfilling life once they come home.
Life can be very challenging for vets and while America provides some resources to help veterans at various stages of their post-service lives, sometimes those resources aren't enough, sometimes the veterans don't know about them, and sometimes, sadly, the veterans just choose to not avail themselves of help.
This is a very personal Veteran's Day for me.
A long-time friend, a man who served in the Navy 20 years ago, died this year. After he left the service, life was not kind to him. He married badly, the divorce ended acrimoniously, visitation with his two little girls was blocked by his ex at every turn, and -- in this economy -- keeping a job was beyond either his ability or his emotional strength.
And then, as he reached his late 40s, health problems set in.
Although we spoke regularly, there's little a buddy from college can do to help from 1,000 miles away other than lend emotional support. I pointed out resources he could turn to, options for getting and keeping a job, and tried to encourage him to make pro-active changes in his life.
My friend always tried to find something positive to talk about or to say, but the cold math of life had apparently pushed him too far into the negative, into the dark.
Clinicians might describe his condition as depression, and that was certainly a factor. Undoubtedly, after setback after setback, downturn after downturn, disappointment after disappointment, it was harder and harder for him to get up in the morning and keep trying to find work in construction, an industry decimated by the housing crisis and down economy.
One day, the call came. My friend had killed himself.
This was a man trained by the United States Navy to operate nuclear reactors, a man who had to pass test after test, challenge after challenge, to qualify for one of the most challenging and select positions in America's military.
This was a man who became the best he could be, served his country, did his duty, and sacrificed for the greater good.
This was a man who was once willing to put his life on the line for America, a man who just couldn't handle life after the service.
Programs for veterans that can help
Ever since that day, that call, I keep thinking it didn't have to end this way. I keep thinking there are resources that could have helped him. People he could have talked to. Programs that could have helped him manage his health problems. Programs that could have helped him manage his emotional challenges.
I pointed many of them out to him, but he could not bring himself to use them.
Those programs are there. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a tremendous range of services for veterans. It offers educational assistance, health assistance, home loan assistance, and vocational assistance.
The VA offers a wide range of mental health services. In addition, and perhaps most important, the Veterans Administration also offers suicide prevention services.
If you or a family member or friend is in trouble, you can call 1-800-273-8255 any time of the day or night. Trained, caring professionals will be there to help.
Look, if you're a vet and you're in trouble, don't take the path my friend did. Do one more service for your country and call the suicide prevention line and talk.
If you've got a friend or family member in trouble, it's easy to get scared or get angry. Instead, use the resources linked to in this article to get help. Contact the VA, ask for assistance, help, and advice.
Our veterans -- our veterans -- deserve to be celebrated, not just one day a year, but every day. They're not just veterans. They're fellow Americans, friends, sons, daughters, dads, moms, brothers, and sisters all.
Celebrate vets by being kind, compassionate, understanding, supportive, and respectful. Hire one, if you can. Love them, cheer for them, applaud them, and stand by them.
Whether you believe the wars they fought were right or wrong, these men and women stood up, put their fellow citizens first, and put their lives on the line. While they served, they put their lives on hold, often slept in cramped, uncomfortable, dirty or downright life-threatening conditions, often ate food none of us back home would tolerate, and through it all, did their challenging, dangerous, often highly complex jobs with skill and professionalism.
No matter what their politics, I haven't met a single veteran or serving member of the military who doesn't believe, deep in his or her heart, that he or she is fighting for us, our freedoms, and our way of life.
So, thank you, veterans, for your service to our country.
P.S. I normally encourage a lively debate in the TalkBacks, but not this time. This time, whether you're an American or not, whether you supported our recent wars or not, please be respectful. Regardless of the decisions of their leaders, these men and women deserve -- deserve -- your respect.