As the country picks up and moves on from the latest election, it is important to remember that presidents and congresses come and go, but our country’s future has always depended on Americans who risk their lives for our freedom. We should be doing everything we can to recognize the sacrifices they made for us and also set them up for success when they come home.
Veterans Day, which is this Friday, offers us all a chance to honor our veterans and explore the ways we can best serve those who have served all of us. But that work should take place more than one day a year.
I recently invited war journalist, documentarian, and author Sebastian Junger to visit the Armed Services Committee. His latest book, “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging,” talks about the transition our veterans have to make when they leave the military.
Junger points to research that shows that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not necessarily connected to whether the veteran has actually seen combat. In an interview, he explains:
“So there's 40 percent in there who really weren't traumatized, who come home and are - feel deeply alienated and out of place. The only language they have for it is PTSD…What they're experiencing is the very real trauma of reintegration into modern society.”
According to Junger, a veteran’s “recovery from war is heavily influenced on the society one returns to.” Junger identifies three factors that most affect a veteran’s transition back in to civilian society. Those three factors are:
1. The society they are rejoining should offer them equal and decent opportunities to thrive within it;
2. Others in their society should seek to understand what those veterans have been through instead of perceiving them as victims; and
3. The veterans “need to feel that they’re just as necessary and productive back in society as they were on the battlefield.”
So what can we do to help our veterans make this difficult transition? One way we can help is by listening to them and their stories. Holding veteran town hall events in our local communities could help. These town halls are solemn and non-political forums where our veterans have the opportunity to share their experiences with the people they protected.
Below are the five suggestions for setting up such an event and the simple rules to make them effective. If you are have any questions about how to do so, please contact my office. You can also find more information at http://www.sebastianjunger.com/vets-town-hall/.
I invite you to learn more about this issue and others by visiting my website here. Have a question you would like answered? Please contact me by phone, letter, e-mail, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
As always, I appreciate hearing from you.
Veteran Town Hall events are simple to set up and cost almost nothing. Non-veterans are just as capable of setting them up as veterans are, but vets and veterans groups may have more success. Here are five simple steps to setting up such an event:
1) Get access to a facility Make sure to have a point-of-contact for the building and cell phone number that will work, especially if it is a holiday or weekend.
2) Arrange for a microphone and sound system so that everyone can hear.
3) Plan on at least one hour for the event, although sometimes they can go much longer. Have plenty of seating. It is fine if people wander in and out - this is not a performance, it is a public gathering. It should be respectful but relaxed.
4) Once the venue has been established, announce the event to both the general public and to veterans. Make sure that at least half a dozen vets plan to show up to speak, and that the room has plenty of people in it. Ideally, veterans from all wars and branches of service should be involved. Social media, verbal announcements at town meetings and press releases to local radio and television stations are effective ways of getting the word out. Make sure to network through the local VA and VFW.
5) One person should introduce the event and then act as a master of ceremony. The MC’s job is simply to make sure that people understand and abide by the rules. And the rules are simple:
• Each vet has ten minutes to speak.
• They can say anything they want within the boundaries of good taste in a community forum.
• The focus should be the emotional experience of the war, whatever that may mean for each particular person.
• All perspectives are valued and important. This event is not about “patriotism” or “activism,” it is about sharing powerful and important experiences within the community.
• When a veteran is done, he or she steps down and the next veteran steps up. Some veterans may wander in who were not on the original list of speakers. They are welcome to speak but should not feel pressured to.
• Events should be inclusive of the community, but the focus should be on the veterans who have volunteered to tell their stories. Only veterans should speak.
• After all veterans who want to speak have done so, the event is over.
It may be helpful to have a sign-up sheet – both for speakers and listeners – so that the event is easier to organize the following year. Press attendance should be encouraged, though TV cameras may be intimidating to some speakers. Any videotaping should be done as unobtrusively as possible, and the MC should make it clear at the beginning – and from time to time thereafter – that cameras will be turned off for anyone who does not wish to be recorded.