Listening to Veterans

Listening to Veterans

Wartime is a highly emotional time for everyone caught up in the fighting.
These emotions remain high long after the battles. Among the most emotional
of times for war veterans is Veterans Day. After the parades and solemn speeches,
war’s often angry turmoil and hidden injuries still haunt many veterans and
their families.

Supporting our troops requires more than welcoming them home, but also listening
and responding to their concerns. A big concern for many soldiers and their
families is how to handle the transition back to civilian life. A big concern
for many older veterans and their loved ones is how to handle the emotional
distress of flashbacks set off by current events.

To commemorate November 11 in a more holistic way, we envision Veterans Day
town meetings in many American communities that go beyond traditional ceremonies.
We urge citizens of a nation still at war to come together to discuss how to
help lift the heavy burden many of our soldiers, veterans and their families
carry. As members of a democratic nation and regardless of our individual politics
we all share responsibility for the impact of combat on those who fight wars
in our name.

Community support is not complicated, but requires a welcoming space where
veterans and family members can speak candidly and get feedback, and perhaps
useful information and contacts, from a supportive audience.

And the gift of dialogue can go two ways. Many of our returning warriors possess
a wisdom, learned through military service, about the deep bonds of brother
and sisterhood as well as the emotional commitment of living in communities
that “leave no fallen soldier behind.” America tasted a bit of this
immediately after 9/11 as communities reached out to grieving members who lost
loved ones that day.

In the same spirit, a Veterans Day town meeting is being held on November 11
in Hoboken, just across the river from the World Trade Center site in New York.
The event, sponsored by Mayor Dawn Zimmer and the Board of Education, will include
a showing of “Leave No Soldier,” a documentary about ways that veterans
struggle to cope with troubling war legacies. Also included will be a staged
reading from a new play, “Flashback,” based on the book by Penny Coleman
about the shattering impact to families of veterans who committed suicide. The
film and reading will be followed by a panel discussion among veterans and counselors
with the audience, focusing on ideas and programs for helping veterans and their
families handle war-related problems such as post-traumatic stress.

Similar events on or around Veterans Day are also being held in several other
communities. Please consider holding such an important event in your community
with the aim of making every day a welcoming one for war veterans to discuss
their concerns.


Donna Bassin, a psychologist, is director and producer of “Leave
No Soldier.” Jan Barry, an Army veteran, is co-editor of “Winning
Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans.”