December 9, 2010

A few friends and I went to a presentation on PTSD being delivered by an employee of the Buffalo Vet Center. We hoped it might help us with our work with GI resisters. We came with a couple of leaflets to share - one of a video interview we are showing next week about an ex-Marine who deserted to Canada with his family and suffers from severe PTSD.

The other is the issue-appropriate graphic supporting IVAW’s Operation Recovery.

It got a bit strange when this counselor made a comment something to the effect that you could tell that a vet with PTSD was improving when he would show up clean shaven, without his beard. A couple comments later a woman professor at the college made some correlation about recidivism and beards among prisoners. Bruce, a draft resister from the Vietnam War who is clean shaven and was sitting behind me, kicked my chair. Since I have a scruffy beard, I wondered if they thought I was a disengaged veteran. I asked them if I was supposed to draw any conclusions about their view of me based on those beard comments.

photo of me later that day by Pat Sorbini

The Vet Center counselor and the man from VVA couldn’t offer any useful advice for the war resisters who chose to desert rather than redeploy or be stop-lossed. They couldn’t hear that these soldiers had exhausted all their legal options and it was no longer possible for these men and women to "talk to their chaplain" or their chain of command rather than desert. Both seemed to agree that there wasn’t any help - other than peer counseling available ( which means no help from the VA) - for these soldiers in their current status. I had already approached the Buffalo VA's Suicide Prevention office about a particular GI and they said if a deserter comes in they will see him, but they will need to notify their military outfit. That sounded more like suicide assistance than prevention.

I doubt that if I had mentioned that all of the women and most of the men soldier-resisters and their families that I met in Canada didn’t have a beard, they would have cared any more. They couldn't see them as soldiers who served in combat because these counselors seemed to be blinded by the fact the soldiers' situations caused them to become deserters.

My point is that these men and women joined the service to serve their country for one reason or another. They experienced something in the occupied countries that affected their ability to kill and/or occupy any more. I would like to see the counselors care as much about these men and women and their families as they would any soldier 'damaged' by war.

What will it take to stir some compassion and empathy among these workers in the huge bureaucratic organizations that are supposed to serve veterans? Although I didn't expect it, I was hoping I could get some help and information - instead I left more convinced that this was a hopeless situation and these counselors needed help.

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