Thursday, May 11, 2017

#22toZero: Are Veterans Making it Worse?

This is an incredibly insightful article about how some Veterans treat each other on Social Media. The movement I’m involved with and committed to, www.vetsmarchonamerica.com, is all about exactly what this Article embodies. Veterans need to be rowing the boat in the same direction. If we fail at this task, we will be abandoning all future generations of Veterans. I took the liberty of doing a little editing of this Article because some of it was simply too offensive for my FB page, but I think you’ll get the message.
The Havok Journal
#22toZero:  Veterans Are Making it Worse
March 10, 2017 by Jordan Taylor 
The only people who understand veterans are other veterans,
and they all hate each other.” 
Veterans kill themselves at the rate of 22 every day, and what does the veteran community do about it? Encourage more of it.
Veteran Cannibalization
My dad, a retired Army Sergeant Major, likes to tell an old-school (AKA sexist) joke: “The only people who understand women are other women. And they all hate each other.” I’ve probably heard that and his other four jokes a hundred times and they weren’t even funny the first time. But what happens if we change a word in that “joke?” Let’s swap out “women” for “veterans.”
“The only people who understand veterans are other veterans. And they all hate each other.” Is that statement true? Of course not, but you wouldn’t know it from some of the things going up on social networking sites recently. Vets are the only people who understand other vets, and yet, military-focused communities online can be incredibly vicious.
To begin with, the pages of online veterans’ blogs and websites are filled with hateful, divisive commentary denigrating the ‘other’ among the services and occupational specialties. There is of course light-hearted banter and competition among branches and services, as well as the usual gallows/barracks/locker room humor that is tacitly accepted as part of military culture. But vile insults and ad hominem attacks, even rape threats, are so prevalent that it makes sense that veterans can be negatively impacted by interactions online.
When the online dogpile starts, vets seeking a connection with other vets online are either pulled into the fray by defending themselves or choose to lash out at others, or don’t join the conversation at all because they’re turned off by it.
Many probably don’t feel comfortable sharing their experiences because they are “just” Air Force, or supply, or “never left the wire,” or God forbid they are a woman. There is a pervasive sense that POGs, Fobbits, and REMFs need not weigh in because they can’t possibly understand what it’s like to really know the struggle. That cuts off a primary (and for some, only) support network for veterans: other veterans.
We veterans make up a small percentage of the U.S. population. Our experiences, though varied based on factors such as branch, MOS, and deployment history, set us apart from civilians. Regardless of motivations to join the military, when we raise our right hand and don the uniform, we all agreed to kill and if necessary die for our country. And when the time comes to make good on that promise, it really comes down to dying and killing for the service member in the foxhole with us, regardless of any other factors than that we are on the same team.
So why do we not take that sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps home with us? Why do we have to constantly be on guard, bracing to defend ourselves against our own kind? Or beating them to the punch by putting them down and making them feel unworthy to be a member of our sacred community? Since when does “pride” come at the expense of other veterans’ dignity? Aren’t we supposed to be in this together? Why are veterans cannibalizing each other online?
There are real veterans—real people—with real feelings on the receiving end of every comment we make. We tell each other to man up, or not to be ‘butt-hurt’ by rude remarks. But what if the person on the other side of the country to whom that admonition is directed has entered the conversation, desperate for a connection with the only people he feels can empathize with his experiences? And he just needs validation that we are there for each other and that we’ve got each other’s six
So yes, we veterans are a small portion of the US population. But the line that separates us from civilians has NOTHING on the lines that divide us amongst ourselves. These divisions are exacerbated by our own behavior. And then we goad and shame other veterans, shifting the blame to the targets to absolve ourselves of any blame that could come from the harassment. We need to do better.
Would it help if we defined the specific problem? The problem is that veterans who can’t find a safe outlet for their anxieties and concerns, even among their peers, are choosing to end their lives. THAT is the problem. And we should do ourselves as a community a favor and step back, reach down deep, and come up with some empathy.
Yes, we have a reputation as tough warriors who can’t be bogged down by feelings. But that is how we handle our enemies. Our brothers and sisters in arms deserve better. They deserve the understanding that can only come from those of us who have experienced what they have, or at least have the frame of reference to do so.
22toZero… Helpful or Hurtful?
Are we veterans hypocrites of the highest order, to a deadly fault? How many of us have lamented the daily loss of 22 of our comrades to suicide, while at the same time attacking, belittling, ridiculing, or taunting other veterans on social media? Veterans are ruthless when there is blood in the digital waters.
However, as soon as a veteran ends his or her life, a strange phenomenon occurs. The rest of the veteran community beatifies the victim. We act as though it was a preventable tragedy “…if only this guy had reached out and asked for help!”
Where were we and how were we treating these victims in the months, or even hours before their deaths? I wonder how many veterans have killed themselves after being driven, or even explicitly invited to do so on social media.
There was a moment of reflection recently when photos of Air Force Captain Jamie Brunette began to circulate on the internet. The photo depicted a vibrant beautiful young officer who did not represent a person one might imagine would end her life.
Some are upset that there is more focus on her than on others who have lost their internal battles and have ended their lives. The truth is, every veteran suicide is tragic. But here is an actual comment by someone on a story about Capt. Brunette:
Chances are the commenter didn’t know Cpt. Brunette, and it appears no one knew her struggles. Yet people still feel comfortable belittling her service and speculating negatively about her experiences downrange. I wonder how many of the people who saw the meme about Cpt. Brunette and thought nothing about it were outraged over a VA supervisor’s mocking of service members’ struggles. Are they not equally offensive?
In short, we need to realize that we all experience trauma in different ways. What might seem like a minor occurrence to one service member, might in the context of someone else’s life be devastating. And, what leads people to commit suicide is likely a combination of stressors, both service-connected, and in one’s personal life. We just need to respect and care for each other, with the empathy only we can provide as fellow veterans. After all, if we don’t support each other, no one will.
Heaping Hostility Instead of Holding Out a Hand
It gets worse; far too often veterans go from “unsympathetic” or “offensive” to downright hostile. All too often, online discussions between, among, and about veterans take a truly nasty turn. Rape “jokes”, death threats, and suggestions that veterans kill themselves often occur with no provocation at all. It really boggles the mind:  with 22 a day already committing suicide, should the veteran community really be encouraging more of it?
This type of behavior is widespread. Right here in Havok Journal I’ve seen veterans wishing violence on other veterans and encouraging them to commit suicide. One individual read Scott Faith’s wildly popular “5 Things Veterans Know That the Rest of America Doesn’t” and said he wanted to “set the authors on fire” because he disagreed with what Scott had written. Another cheery veteran invited Leonard Benton to “wash his mouth out with buckshot” over an article he wrote about Chris Kyle.
On many, many other pages I’ve seen many, many other invitations ranging from “suck start an M4” to “you should kill yourself” to “I hope you die.” That doesn’t even count the kind of racist and sexist comments that people feel comfortable making from behind the relative safety and semi-anonymity of their keyboards. Instead of holding out a helping hand, many times it seems that we’re instead handing our fellow veterans a rope to hang themselves, with the knot already tied. Is this really how the veteran community engages in meaningful discussion? Is this how we support each other?
Non-veterans are watching, too. Since so few Americans serve, the only way many Americans will ever “meet” a veteran is online, and the impression that they get of the way veterans interact with each other is going to be a lasting one. Do we want the average American thinking that it’s OK to say the kinds of things to veterans that we say to each other? Or that veterans hate everyone and everything, including each other? I don’t.
As a veteran community, in the end, nobody understands us like we understand us. No one can help us the way we can help ourselves. And no one can ever be as cruel to us as we are to each other. We need to do better.  #22toZero.

This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on 14MAR15.

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