How do you thank a combat veteran? Do you say, “Thanks for your service?” This greeting may be sincerely and compassionately offered, but some veterans feel they don’t deserve to be thanked, because they feel bad about at least some of the things they had to do to stay alive. They suffer from moral injury. This is undoubtedly the least recognized wound of PTSD.
The band, Five Finger Death Punch, made a video to educate the public about the full range of veterans’ responses to the stress of combat. Watch that video below. Combat traumatizes the whole body, even if a soldier’s brain hasn’t been physically assaulted by concussion. Combat rewires the brain to make a soldier hyper-vigilant, the better to survive. It arouses rage, for if one doesn’t have the option to flee a mortal threat, one rages to subdue it. This is a normal animal response. Combat also tends to desensitize the part of the brain that recoils from suffering, both one’s own and that of others, to protect one from empathizing and hesitating to kill. Surviving in an ambush requires that one shoot without thinking. For some vets thinking about what they have had to do gets stuffed way down deep and doesn’t go away. It haunts one in dreams. It eats at one’s conscience. It stains one’s soul. It may eventually move a soldier to kill himself, for he feels like he’s “on the wrong side of heaven, the righteous side of hell;” and he deserves to die.
In the video a fellow vet reaches out to help his buddy. You see by his own tears that he understands his buddy’s deepest wounds. He offers a helping hand up. That’s a symbol of hope at the end of this story. Veterans helping veterans is certainly a key to reducing veteran suicides. But I’m convinced that even if you haven’t experienced combat yourself, you can offer a hand up. The most important thing is to listen, just listen. Don’t try to make a vet feel proud when his soul is telling him not to feel proud. In truth, our whole society bears responsibility for making war. So, steady yourself for hearing stuff that makes you recoil. Hang in there. Recognize that you are both blessed by a sour conscience. This proves that the better parts of you are still alive and well.