We have just concluded the official week when we honor and remember all of our veterans, but, hopefully, we appreciate their service and sacrifices every day of the year. Veterans Day is not the same as Memorial Day, as this is a time to remember those who literally gave their lives for our country, particularly in battle or from wounds they suffered in battle. Veterans Day, which was originally called Armistice Day, honors all those who have served the country in war or peace, living or deceased, and is intended to show appreciation for all veterans for their military service.
When we think about those who have served our nation, we realize that many men and women have paid a great price trying to defend and protect us, and we are truly grateful. We can also look around and see many wounded warriors who live with physical disabilities and/or serious psychological problems resulting from what they have gone through.
Though we might not be aware of the severity of this situation, there is an ongoing phenomenon regarding the high rate of suicide among U.S. military veterans. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs published a report that analyzed 55 million individual cases from 1974 to 2014, along with more recent data. The research tragically confirmed that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
In May 2019, President Donald Trump signed an executive order for an initiative to counter this horrible reality. The program aims to equip state and local governments with the resources necessary to identify and intervene in scenarios where veterans may be at risk. Included within the record $73.1 billion for veteran health services is $8.6 billion allocated for mental health services.
I'm reminded of a story about a young man named Josh who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq that left him with extreme hopelessness and depression. He had been deployed southwest of Baghdad, where, during an attack, a mortar exploded 10 feet away from him, leaving him severely wounded and with a one-way ticket home. Six months later, on one particular winter evening, he was really having a hard time trying to fight the shadows of fear and sadness. His Ka-Bar combat knife was lying on the table beside his computer, where he had just written a letter trying to explain his torment. He stepped outside to sit on the cold and wet cement steps just wanting to end it all. He remembers promising to himself "Tonight, I will," as he took another drag from his cigarette.
Staring out into the darkness, he noticed something moving and soon discovered it was a kitten, slowly walking toward him. It was soaking wet, but friendly, and so skinny it was obviously hungry. When Josh reached out to pet him, the mysterious visitor leaned into his touch and started to purr.
This emotional connection with another living being triggered something deep within Josh's heart as he felt hot tears running down his face in the cold drizzle. The kitten did not show fear, but just kept staring at him with beautiful green eyes. In fact, Josh says this innocent creature seemed to understand how desperately he needed a friend at that very moment.
He carried his unexpected guest inside, a tom with black and white patches. He dried him off and gave him some food. His plan to end it all had been distracted. Holding the kitten close, Josh considered he might not be able to deal with his own problems, but decided that he could try to help this little fellow with his. Josh named him Scout. On bad days, Scout would curl up in Josh's lap and shower him with love that brought comfort and peace.
Over the next few weeks, the bond they developed inspired Josh to request help for his depression, and eventually he grew stronger in his faith and confidence. It's not a stretch of the imagination that Scout helped save his life, as Josh is now married and his wife just gave birth to a baby girl. Of course, Scout still loves to sleep in Josh's lap.
If you are a veteran and struggling with PTSD, counselors are available at 1-800-273-8255. "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears" Psalm 34:4.
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