This piece was shared on Social Media by a good friend of mine who is a Marine. Ever since I have known him, he has been a huge part and influence regarding especially veterans events. He is a huge part of our local biker community….loved and respected by everyone who knows him. Thanks for letting me share this Big Joe!

Talking Paper: Why Feed the Vets & Other Events at Ft. Roots/McClellan & all VAs?

Vet History 101: The Dream Part 1— They leave their families and friends and all that they’ve known their entire lives. They are excited, scared, pumped, and hopeful. Everyone wants to be a hero and come home to parades—or not—to families that cheer them and they want to re-find their place in those lives and in society. They want things to be better; they’ve fought for their country and all that they hold dear, and for that the expectation is that they will have more devoted families, promotions based on merit and what they’ve sacrificed, and Happily Ever After is at their fingertips…

Dream Part two– They go to into theater and become members of fighting machines—whether it’s on the ground, tanks, planes, ships, subs, or virtual. These relationships are built on respect, trust, friendships, and sharing gains and losses. They believe this will last an entire lifetime and for them—this is their NEW reality. They know, or hope, that this present life won’t be forever; that they will all go home at the end of the tour and keep in touch once home; but that forever they have friends who will always be there for them in tough times and celebrations. This is what keeps them going when –oops—their spouse sends them a “Dear John/Jane” letter; the kids hate them because they missed a birthday, a wife/husband/significant other doesn’t understand why they signed up to stay, or volunteered for another mission. These are the people who remind them that they are crazy and really DO have things to look forward to when they get home…safely…intact. These are the friends who understand the loneliness, the bitterness, the depression, and the glory of triumph; the ones who will always understand—because they share similar experiences; they can talk about “that night” or “that day when got hurt or killed.” No one, no matter how much they love a Veteran, can ever understand that in order to survive mentally and physically you have to suspend your old life reality in order to go back to it.

Dream Part three— Vets come home and are thrilled to be back with family, friends, jobs, kids, and all the other aspects of their lives they’ve missed for weeks, months, and years. They dream about it and it’s what keeps them going when nothing else can. This is their fantasy dream world of motivation. Now they’re home and everything is going to be awesome.

Reality Part 1

1) A Vet just lost a best friend when an IUD took out the tank he or she was supposed to be on because he or she stayed back in order to participate with a birthday or celebration online with family.

2) Vet was in the tank that the IUD took but Vet survived but had to hauled back stateside and is not a amputee—and best friend still died.

3) Vet lives with no injury, most friends make it back safely with only a couple of injuries but realizes it’s only because another unit or company was on duty and you were partying with your friends.

4) Vet makes it through but hates the killing, the injuries, the stress, the knowledge that they have no one to go home to and wtf was all this for; nobody will care and their aren’t going to be any parades when I get home; only a mom that has gotten older, and a significant other that moved on.

5) Vet loses so many friends, kills some women and kids in the name of “greater good” but can’t live with it emotionally and withdraws so far into self that nothing matters and the hope is that they won’t have to go home and face anyone.

Reality Part 2

The Vet goes home as a survivor. Everyone cheers them as the great warrior and the savior of democracy. Wife, husband, kids, mom & dad, all the friends, the boss, the VA, and their Vet friends celebrates your homecoming and wishes you well in your life’s endeavors. Vet goes through forced counseling, re-integration classes, personal relationship classes, and signs up to go to college. All is good.

Reality Part 3

Three months, six months, two years go by, and somehow things didn’t work out. Vet and significant other split up because “they aren’t the same,” either emotionally or physically. Vet doesn’t want to talk about experiences. Vet or s/o get more distant. Vet yells all the time or never talks at all. Counselling didn’t do anything. School didn’t work out because Vet has nightmares, insomnia, PTSD, TBI, whatever, and can’t hold down school plus the family.

The Downward Spiral–Vet starts drinking too much and too often. Vet wants to party with buddies from unit. Vet starts drugs and pain meds for sleep and maybe both. Vet feels depressed and nothing makes the adrenaline pump like saving a friend’s life, or running from hostile fire, or the glory of living through another attack. Vet can’t forget the last moment spent with friend who died night before going home, and why did friend die instead? Doubt, anguish, uncertainty, loneliness for team, guilt for not being able to make family happy, not making more money. Bitterness because Vet lost family in divorce, VA denied or took too long to process claim, an amputee isn’t a whole person are they? Nightmares, no sleep, no job, no money. Why go on?

Tough Ones who try to hold it all in—No scars, can still smile, function, appears to have come through pretty much unscathed because there is nothing to remind friends, family, or society that Vet ever served other than a DD-214—Vet goes home, takes up where they left off. Works, takes care of kids and family, or marries and starts new life. Everything good but Vet never talks about anything. Everything is held in because Vet don’t want to appear weak or desperate. Vet appears normal. Vet doesn’t do crazy shit like they show on tv. Vet ok.  

 Who are these Vets to be visited?

1. Veterans who enter VA facilities for either mental or physical, or both reasons may be at VA for extended periods of time or for entire life. They may or may not have families to visit. They may have families and friends, and a support group, but still, when you are in the hospital, you are cut off from normal.

 2. Veterans who have outlived their families, have no close family members, or have alienated family may not have anyone who comes to see them at hospital.

 3. Dementia patients may have outlived their families, may have family that are themselves unable to visit due to age or illness, or families live far away.

 4. Patients who are at VA for Physical Rehab, ie: hip surgery, knee replacement may be at VA for 4-12 weeks. They may have families who visit when they can but most of their days are spent hoping for release and trying not to get depressed if rehab is not going well.

 5. Patients who are constantly re-admitted into hospital due to relapses, age and infirmity, chronic illness, or dementia

 6. Mental Health Patients who have entered either a short or long term psychological and/or substance abuse program may spend anywhere from a couple weeks to a year in these programs.

 Why is there such a push for Vets, Bikers, and volunteers to visit the Veterans at VA?

1. They may or may not have family that live close enough to be visited.

2. They need to be reminded, esp if at VA for long rehabs or programs that there is “light at the end of the tunnel.”

3. Long Term Substance Abuse programs tend to “institutionalize” Veterans so that they don’t remember what “normal” or “life outside” means to them. Visits forces them to remember that they are working and striving for a better life outside VA.

4. The only quality of life that Veterans have, aside from great staff, occasional family visits, and lots of food—are the volunteers who come to visit, entertain, talk/read, sing happy birthday, and celebrate or honor their service with events such as annual POW/MIA ceremony, National Salute Week, Valentine’s Day visits, Holiday Visits, and “Feed the Vets” for Veterans Day.

 ➢ It’s common knowledge that even when a Vet will not talk about his or her experiences in service to a family member, they will almost ALWAYS talk with a fellow Vet. Most “therapy” and “recovery” for a Vet takes place in conversation with other Vets.

 ➢ Vets trust other Vets. Vets trust members of their own service. Vets want to feel that comradery that they remember from their service time. Being with another Vet rekindles the memory of why they served their country in the first place.  

 Why the Paperwork during Events?

1. VA is government and paperwork is part of it.

2. If it’s not documented, it might as well have never been done. Just like in the military.

3. Voluntary Service, as well as any other program at VA must be able to quantify as well as qualify the programs that they are providing.

4. Programs are validated and funded by numbers of Veterans served, and effectiveness of programs.

 Bottom Line: The more volunteers and donations that go to serve a certain program or event at VA, the more money and support VA will put into that program!!!

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