How has serving impacted you?
This is the question the US Army asked current and former service members on Twitter. Family and friends of those soldiers also spoke up.
Many of the responses were inspiring, as generations of Army recruits, enlisted, and veterans shared their heartfelt stories on social media. The thread began with recognition of Pfc. Nathan Spencer, a soldier who credited the Army with giving him the opportunity to “serve something greater than myself.”
Far more shared the painful truth of what war does to a soldier’s soul, to their lives, and to the lives of their loved ones. Many responses alluded to the pain of living with PTSD, sexual assault, addiction, and injury.
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According to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), an estimated 11-20 percent of soldiers who served in the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) or the war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) have PTSD. For veterans of the Vietnam War, the rate of PTSD jumps to 30 percent, while it affects at least 12 pecent of Gulf War veterans.
And within these huge swathes of the veteran population, more are driven to suicide with each passing year.
In a follow-up post, the Army extended thanks to those who shared their stories on Twitter, and reaffirmed it was “committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our Soldiers.”
Sadly, for many veterans, the wounds of service are invisible. Opportunities to share their pain hardly come every day and, even if a veteran does feel like sharing, where does it go from there? Many are left wondering if they will ever find the support they so badly need.
“The public just doesn’t hear about it,” Brandon Neely, a former Army specialist told the New York Times. “They don’t hear about the guys, these veterans, that don’t sleep, have night sweats, are irritated. Some guys get really bad anxiety, depression.
“I know more people that have committed suicide in my unit than have been killed when we were deployed,” he continued. “The Army is a good place, the military is a great place. The training, it gets you ready for war, but they don’t get you ready for coming home.”
Social media may not be able to help these veterans and their families through the toughest times, but they do offer a look at the issues many of them struggle with. They are seen. But, are they heard?
That question may not as easily be answered in a tweet.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Veterans in need of help can access the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 800-273-8255 or through this website: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.