Last night I had a phone conversation with a friend. Rick and I both served in the same company while in Vietnam. Part of the conversation dealt with the men and women who are coming back from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both Rick and I have had to deal with the traumatic psychological and emotional aftermath of war—PTSD. We both shared our concern for these new vets who will suffer the long-term effects of combat related stress, in many cases a disabling condition. Many people in our country have pledged their support for these new veterans. However, many do not realize that support for veterans is a long-term affair. The Veterans Administration offers help; however, we cannot rely on only the VA to assist combat scared veterans. Long-term support must come from community, family, and friends. Moreover, long-term support is difficult and painful. One who befriends a war scared vet must realize that to help a veteran one must, on a significant level, enter the veteran’s traumatic memories and pain. For those who live the Christian journey, this entering into is akin to entering and experiencing Christ’s suffering. We must pray for wisdom and strength to sustain us. And we must, following the Samaritan’s example, step out offering care for our psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually wounded brothers and sisters who directly experienced war.
Another issue that it is imperative for veterans’ friends and family to be aware of is that in the past few years the Veterans Administration has put a restrictive rule in place. This rule states that a veteran must sign up for help with the VA within five years of their seperation from the military. For many veterans of other war it has takes fifteen, twenty, or more years for the traumatic pain related to combat to break through a veteran’s denial. It took Rich eighteen-year and me twenty-two year before we sought help for our post-traumatic stress. Friends and family of veterans who come back from war, thus need to encourage or even plead with these veterans to at least sign up with the VA before this time limit expires. Many vets are reticent to do this because they want to put their psychologically embedded war experience behind them. If veterans do not sign up with the VA within the five-year limit, they will lose their chance to receive government-related help and benefits.