I know that’s a ridiculous statement on its surface. But take a moment to read this post about veterans on Facebook and then I think you’ll see what I’m talking about. While I’m at it, Happy Veteran’s Day to all my brothers and sisters.
A very good friend of mine has a theory that many veteran’s have a form of slow-rolling Post Traumatic Stress, especially those that have seen combat or collected intelligence. Why those two groups? The first is obvious: getting used to the idea of people trying to kill you never really happens. You adjust to it, make accommodations in your posture, and try to get past it in the end. You see friends wounded. You see friends die. You experience that mind-numbing fear that comes with the knowledge that you might die.
Part of that combat world includes anyone in the military that flew aircraft, drove a tank, served on a ship, or … Yes, those were all forms of combat. Working in the day-to-day environment of the military in peacetime or war exposed you to physical hazards that very few civilians would understand. All of it takes a toll on the men and women involved. The extended periods away from family, the rough working conditions, the danger of flying off of ships, and living underwater all contribute to Post Traumatic Stress in some veterans.
Intelligence collectors take a beating of a different kind – mental. There is a huge stress factor involved in collecting intelligence if you’re worth your oxygen consumption. You want to get it right because others depend on you. Your bad judgement, poor translation, lax attention, and fatigue can cost the lives of the people on the front lines. You try to live inside the head of your opponent: it’s bizarre. Not only do you have to be a serving member in our military, but you have to be a Libyan fighter pilot, a Taliban sniper, a Viet Cong logistics director, or a Soviet tank division commander in your own mind. That’s how the game is played: you become the enemy.
The question is what does this have to do with Facebook?
The answer is 24 hour on-line peer support networks. People who know what it’s like are standing by to assist.
Over the past two years I’ve joined several groups on Facebook that are specifically submarine/intelligence/veteran/cryptologic in their nature. The requirements to join some of them are pretty tight: you must be vetted by members of the group who know that you were engaged in the specific activity of the group. No posers allowed. If we don’t know you, you ain’t getting in the door.
As a result the confidence level that you are talking to a peer is pretty high. The comfort level with exchanging information with them follows along with that knowledge. It leads people to be more open about what they are experiencing at that moment, and it allows a pressure valve to trip when things are too intense.
In the time I’ve been a member of one group in particular, I’ve seen several veterans talk about suicide and their loss of hope. Within minutes (if not seconds) of their posting this cry of distress a peer has responded. Within a very short period of time the conversation has shifted to geographic location, who’s nearby, who can call the person, who knows another vet who’s in the neighborhood. It’s amazing to watch when it happens. Nobody wants another vet to go down to suicide. I leave the suicide hotline numbers up on this blog year round so that people in need can get help right away. Facebook is taking on that role for many of my comrades.
Is it world-class therapy? Nope. Is it licensed and regulated? Nope. Is it frequently crude humor and profane behavior? Yes. Is it the difference in someone making it out of their crisis? Yes. It surely is that if nothing else.
So, to my fellow veterans, and their families, if you have a problem dealing with the stress of your experiences, your depression, your anxiety, and your pain, get online and find a forum for veterans that your are comfortable with today. I can’t stress enough that these online communities are taking the place in modern life that the VFW and American Legion posts did for the returning vets of WWII. Younger vets don’t join those organizations at the same rate they used to, but they are out in cyberspace every day.
If your issues go deeper than needing a boost from others who served, make sure you talk to the VA about getting some help. If the VA doesn’t appeal, get in touch with a local counseling service. Make an effort today (and if you’re the family of a vet with troubles, help them do this!) to reach out and get that help. You matter. You signed that blank check over to Uncle Sam that said you’d pay with your life if needed. Anyone that does that is a friend of mine.
Happy Veteran’s Day. Be well.