November 11, 2013 the nation recognized your service in our wars as it does every year. This day and your service has new layers of meaning for me-- it's one day closer to the one-year anniversary of my nephew, Sgt. Steven D. Hallenbeck's, death by his own hand. He returned from tours in the Persian Gulf having been through a number of blasts that left him with more than a few concussions and PTSD. A depression developed that hung over him for the few years after he was honorably discharged. His sleep deprivation never healed. He tried school and graduated to find no employment. He tried finding a love. Had a few hobbies. Photography. Video games. What he needed was purpose, consistent help from the VA (every time he got a good doc, s/he would rotate out), and a place to tell his story.
NPR reports that the US federal government estimates that 22 discharged service members take their own lives everyday. 22. A day.
I can only begin to understand the hell my nephew experienced. I happened to have a concussion at the same time he did (mine from domestic violence, different story, another time). We compared notes. Startle at little things? Check. Can't sleep. Check. Emotions running amock in 2.5 seconds. Check. Hard time focusing? Check. Dizzy? Check. It became a joke between us. Who could make the other sicker quicker? He'd wear a heavily patterned Hawaiian shirt to activate my vertigo. Well played. I'd sneak up behind him and nearly get myself hit. Good times. And he told me stories. Stories so heavy, so horrible I can only imagine how anyone could maintain a sense of innocence or faith in humanity to have witnessed them.
The flashbacks were the worst we agreed. A glass of drinking water could trigger one of his. His eyes would widen with the horror he'd seen coming into a village. Everyone, every animal, dead. The skin and bones survivor who walked up to them? Steve thought he'd want food. He just gestured at their camel packs. Gasping with dry sobs. Someone handed him a bottle of water. He took a sip. More sobbing, gesturing at all of the bodies, and finally pointing to the well. The villiage's water supply had been poisoned. "I can't just see a glass of water and go on my way as though it's nothing." And it's stories like these that need to be told, I tried to convince him. "But who am I? So many others were through so much worse."
Please, please tell us your stories. Every one of your stories counts. Tell your families especially. We need to understand. Please share with us online, in audio files, on youtube. Make videos, like the one Logan Stark did "For the 25." Write editorials and for magazines like Col. Zoltan Krompecher. Post a comment below and share. I promise I'm listening. And if you're in the Ingham country, MI area, please let Adva Ringle (former Israeli solider) and I know how we can help you share your stories. Only you can help each other, your families, and the rest of us really understand what you've experienced as veterans.
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