I knew a marine who was suicidal after one tour in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. Both fucked him up.
In Afghanistan his squad called in a strike (artillery) on a ridge above them where they could hear movement. The field artillery is death from above. Fast. Efficient. In moments, two little girls on what was left of bicycles, were found. Not much left, actually. None of the boys forgave themselves.
On a street in Iraq, in some city no one remembered later, a marine unit on foot patrol took fire from a sniper. One marine was walking next to, but not too closely, his buddy. It’s a really bad tactical mistake to bunch up. That’s when rockets can take out a lot of troops in one shot. So they were spread out at least to some extent. The sniper, unseen in elevated cover, scored a fatal hit, a head shot. His buddy didn’t scramble for cover. He hit his knees, cradled his buddy’s head and screamed and screamed for a corpsman. He would never accept the obvious fact that his friend was dead the millisecond following the passage of the high velocity bullet through the guy’s skull. Dead before he hit the ground. When a corpsman got there, the Marine was cussing. “What took you so long!” He screamed. An accusation.
“His brains, put his brains back!”
Because it can’t make sense. One can’t be rational. Because a guy knows brain parts mean death, but when he saw it happen….when it was a friend, a bud, he can’t accept the obvious meaning of a fatal shot, of brain splatter on a street.
The marine never got over it. He could never see a doctor. The rest of his company looked down on such a thing as weakness. Weakness of the type a US Marine must never have. Never, even if he had it, ever speak of.
He ate his way to a discharge. He wasn’t going back. He went home to his wife but he was different. Harder. Rougher. Meaner. Abusive. At least once he stuck his little stepson’s head in the toilet and flushed. He took two shots at his wife then claimed it was an accident when he missed. The handgun was a cheap piece of shit.
We found his journal. He had spent days with it. Months, really. Only two things were written on its pages: the dead marine’s name….and the phrase “Death is the only freedom”.
Whether he ever did seek help, I cannot say. I hope I never see him again; he’s a dangerous man. The boy no longer lives with him.
The stigma of mental illness is ages old and has caused sorrow and death by the numbers. Mental health was, in some civilisations, a problem that was dealt with experimentally, and ancient skulls show evidence of actual surgery. Some bear evidence of healing, therefore living for some time, before the individual died.
This insinuates a compassion for those who suffered head injuries and mental illnesses. It’s surprising then that later, in medieval times and up until only very recently, horrible things were done to patients. In “asylums”. Lobotomies are only part of what went on. To think that a war veteran ever wound up like that is disgusting and it’s a disgrace.
But despite this article, the physical and mental health of our veterans, who served in both war and peacetime, is not a priority. It has never been, and funding reveals this. Graves reveal it. Records show it but in less detail because the military frowns on admitting it fucked up.
I have no faith whatsoever that veteran care will improve. Trump wants to cut all healthcare. If he says otherwise, don’t believe him. You want to help? Spend time with a vet. Visit hospitals. Volunteer. They’ve earned our gratitude. They deserve our sympathy and love. We owe them a debt we can never repay. But imagine what it would be like if we tried. These men and women can be saved.