It takes some work to learn to be a veteran.
Too much of it comes, of necessity, from one's own experience and those experiences are not all the same.
From the outside, I'd once thought there'd be a pecking order.
Not based on rank; on the medals on one's chest.
It took actual experience to learn how wrong that idea was.
It took actual experience to learn when someone says "Thank you for your service," it never means the same thing twice.
Some can experience more trauma by spending an entire career completely "behind the lines." Some, but not many.
Some can transition from those lines to everyday life without breaking a sweat. Some, but not many.
Some can come back from those lines and go home to their families and the ordinary parts of their lives completely unaffected. Some, but not many.
Some can, in living with those coming back from those lines, take up their relationships right where they left off. Some, but not many.
And because some can do those things, we're given the impression everyone can. It's the American Impression: What one can do, everyone can do.
It just ain't so.
We veterans are a unique lot. And our numbers are shrinking.
Not just because of the distance of time between World War II and the current day. The members of our armed services are now all volunteers, meaning a smaller percentage of our population is engaged in a larger share of responsibility.
Not since World War II have so many veterans been engaged in so much combat for so long.
It's leaving scars. It can't help but leave scars. And too many of those scars are invisible.
Until something, or someone, breaks.
Even then it's tough to come forward, because every veteran knows no matter how much reassurance they are given, coming forward with an emotional issue is the best way to throw your hat in a corner and never see another promotion. Which means it takes real courage to ask yourself whether what you're going through is something that requires more help than you can self-medicate and handle.
It takes even more courage, once you know the answer to that question, to come forward.
This is where you come in.
There are all kinds of things that go on, that happen to people, while they're on active duty, even if they never get near a combat zone. Serving in the armed forces is, after all, a world unto itself, with its own rules, practices and understandings. There are people who abuse their power by confusing it with their authority. There are people who bully, intimidate and sexually harass. There used to be (and, unfortunately, to some extent there still are) those who use someone else's sexual orientation as leverage if not outright blackmail in furtherance of their own untoward goals.
And there are people who use other people as stepping stones simply because they have half a stripe more than their victims. What's more, even when those wrongs are brought into the full light of day, the outcomes aren't always just. In all those ways, those outcomes and those people aren't any different from what goes on in civilian life.
Addressing each of those things is important to every veteran, if not every human being, and all of them need your help.
In that regard, what should be a huge priority is your willingness, if not your outright action, in removing the stigma of mental health care.
Whether it's depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism or substance abuse, you can help take away the mark of Cain. Whether it's genetic or caused by time on the lines, whether it's suicidal tendencies brought about by a traumatic brain injury from an improvised explosive device or a genetic bipolar disorder, whether it's evidenced by weight gain or by personal behavior, you can be part of a conversation that moves the conversation into the 21st century.
Did you know the people who are most resistant to mental health care in this country are those who call themselves religious? Or, more closely defined, those who refer to themselves as "traditional" Christians?
The percentage of people who do not believe in evolution is staggering, ranging from one-third to one-half of our population, depending on the narrowing of the demographic. Once again, the reason they don't? Their religion.
Which leads one to ask, with such a high percentage of people using their religion to reinforce something that flies completely in the face of established fact, how are we going to get to a point of acceptance on the subject of mental health care?
I offer this request as a veteran and pastor, completely on my own: If you have decided your religion precludes you from medically or scientifically addressing mental health care, the problem is not medicine or science, it's you. Particularly if you are a person of faith.
While you have every right, thanks to veterans, to believe anything you want, rational people who recognize the spiritual presence of what we in my faith call God do not consider medicine and science as being in conflict with their religious beliefs. Which means you need to stop, reconsider and, if you truly want to honor a veteran for their service Nov. 11
The Rev. Dr. Robert Sichta, Congregational United Church of Christ, 3700 26th St. W., Bradenton, can be reached by calling 941-756-1018 or e-mailing PBKAlpha1@gmail.com. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.