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Let’s help veterans fight their personal wars, too

November 13, 2019

On Feb. 2, 2013, the late-Chris Kyle — former Navy SEAL sniper made famous by his book, later turned into a movie “American Sniper” — and his friend Chad Littlefield went to a firing range in Texas with the veteran Eddie Ray Routh. Kyle’s hope was that spending time with veterans like himself who were struggling might be a good way to deal with his own trauma. 

In an attempt to help find his purpose after staying stateside following multiple tours in Iraq, where Kyle went on to become the most lethal American sniper in American history, he began helping veterans like himself deal with the trauma they also acquired during their service.

That day, Routh — the man Kyle sought to help — killed both him and Littlefield at the range.

Kyle’s story is unique, in the sense that no other Navy SEAL has ever had 160 confirmed kills, according to CNN. Throughout the book and the movie, Kyle either writes or his character is seen, respectively, speaking about his sacrifice and what he went through as just doing his best to protect his fellow Americans who made the sacrifice with him. 

But it’s not unique in many other ways in the sense that like Routh, Kyle and nearly 11-20% of those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom developed some sort of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in any given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

PTSD an anxiety disorder that is often correlated with experiencing trauma. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, hallucinations, feelings of fear, nightmares and a long list of symptoms that are traumatizing themselves. Many who suffer from PTSD do not feel inclined to seek help because, like many other mental health ailments, there are connotations and stigmas attached to seeking help.

And sadly for many of our veterans, the horror and trauma they once faced abroad is not left behind in the same place they acquired it. The bullet shells, the bloodshed, the sweat and tears may stay where the fighting occurred. But for the servicemen and women of our nation, departing the battlefield — whether that be a certain city, a certain country or a certain region — is not the finite end to their own personal war. According to a New York Times article published in April this year, roughly 20 American veterans take their own lives on a daily basis. 

A troubling war being fought by a portion of our veterans is not against insurgents, ISIS, al-Qaeda or the Taliban. It’s a war against trauma; a war to rid out the trauma and the memories that stick; a war against the unprocessed and undying terrors within our own heads.

The human brain and human imagination is one that can create and retain the most beautiful, and in contrast, the most terrifying and menacing of things. Trauma is subjective; to some, the smallest sights and sounds can leave a damaging impact. 

But many of our veterans return home with a normalized view of trauma making it very difficult to adjust to civilian life, and the constant fight-or-flight response of warfare carries over upon the return stateside. Images of explosions; sounds of screaming; crackles of gunfire play on repeat in the minds of many of our brave men and women in uniform. 

In reflective contemplation of Veteran’s Day this year, we should all consider those personal wars being fought by the warriors of this nation, both retired, reserved and active and remember that the battlefield, for many, comes back home with them. 

Chris Kyle did not die in vain. Although his passing was not on the battlefields of Iraq where he directly or indirectly saved many American lives, he did still die for his country. No matter how small a step it takes, whether it’s volunteering for the VA, the American Legion, your local hospital or simply spreading awareness of this issue, let’s all do our part in supporting those we call heroes win their own battles and their own wars upon their return home from fighting our nation’s.

­—The Suffolk

Journal Staff

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