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Shadows of War

War’s end is just the beginning of new fight

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017 9:46 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017 10:02 a.m. CST

Editor’s note: Jean Jennings is a Prairie City-area resident whose brother battled PTSD following his service in the Vietnam War. This is the fifth part in a Veterans Day series recounting her memories of her brother’s service and the impact it had on her and her family.

John came home from Vietnam with a Purple Heart, shrapnel under his skin and a mangled knee from carrying soldiers on his back through shin deep mud. He brought home a Zippo lighter, engraved and gifted to him by grateful soldiers. Medics hold a special place in the hearts of infantry soldiers. He also came home with a raw, bleeding, infected wound which refused to heal and that no one could see. He was younger than both of my sons when he went. That thought chills my blood. The rest of his story isn’t mine to tell, so I leave you with these last thoughts:

Nine years ago, our farmstead was hit by a tornado. We lost seven buildings, two cars, trees and windows, but no one was hurt. I personally lost my sense of safety. I used to thrill to the power of a raging storm, but that ended at 11:30 p.m. June 3, 2008. The rest of that summer and for all the years since, whenever there is a tornado warning nearby, I feel anxiety crawling through my body like a living thing. Part of my mind shuts down, quits thinking logically and goes to some primal place. I pace the kitchen, watching the sky to the west through the windows above the sink. If the warning comes after dark, multiply my anxiety ten-fold. It’s better than it was, but I have a feeling that I’ll live with it the rest of my life.

It’s a horrible, awful, terrible feeling and so foreign to me. I developed mild PTSD because of that storm. But as much as the experience took from me, it also gave me something valuable - empathy for those that live with PTSD and/or severe anxiety. I know now why some medicate themselves, with the help of a doctor or by their own hand, to escape it.

Twenty veterans commit suicide every day. Twenty percent of soldiers returning from combat duty in Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD. Many, many more never seek help. HUD estimates that nearly 40,000 combat veterans are homeless any given night. The VA system has major flaws. Funding for veteran medical and mental health care has been cut and cut again. Bills that would help veterans are voted down repeatedly in Washington. We refuse to accept the damage caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam and delay disability claims, often until the soldier dies. We should all be mad as hell. Are politics and bureaucracy to blame? Surely, to some extent. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Voters share the blame for returning people to congress that refuse to support our veterans. If our nation makes the decision to send these men and women into combat, we OWE THEM. We owe combat veterans as much support and care and assistance as they need for as long as they live. If we as a nation don’t value their service enough to afford it, we can’t afford to go to war.

Estimated cost of the Vietnam war in 2011 money was $950 billion, nearly a trillion dollars. Current cost of the war in Afghanistan stands at $2.4 trillion, nearly $720 million dollars a day. The Iraq war cost more than $2 trillion. The 2018 proposed budget for the Veterans Administration is $158 million. Someone - several someone’s – became even more rich because of these wars. Can you imagine what it would mean, in lives and dollars, to go to war with a nuclear North Korea? War is big money for the already wildly rich people and corporations that profit from it. The war machine is capitalism at its best and worse. Poor men and women fight rich men’s wars. There’s not enough money to be made in peace.

And so, we continuously pay the price. We pay not just in dollars but in the breathlessly high currency of lives lost, minds and souls broken, the fabric of families and relationships forever torn and the heartbreak of those that love a combat veteran, especially this little sister.

Contact Jean Jennings at jtiponin@gmail.com

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