It isn’t every day a boy turns into a man. Most days are spent swimming in the river or fishing off the edge of a dock. Sometimes it’s walking by the highschool just as the girls prance out to the pool for swim practice. Maybe playing a game of baseball or hiding out by the shed with the boys drinking beer, because beer is cool when you’re just a boy. These are some of the memories a boy takes with him when he turns into a man.

An explosion rocks the ground beneath him and he buries himself deeper into the brush. He tries to quiet his breathing and swallow the fear that rises from his gut as a tank crawls by so close he could touch it. He squeezes his eyes shut. He does not want to see death coming. Better not to know its on its way because if you don’t know then maybe it will miss you.

One day a boy, the next a man. Suddenly mature with the ability to make wise decisions and carry the weight of the country on his shoulders. At least that’s how it happens, whether he’s ready or not. His country goes to war and he will go along. He wants to wear a soldier’s uniform and become a man of honor. He will defend his country.  Fight for justice. He will be a hero.

For the soldier that makes it home, it is not a victory. His mind is tortured, his is sleep haunted, his fear constant. His life has been altered. With every death of a fellow soldier, his world gets darker. The guilt chokes him so he swallows whiskey like it’s water. It is dark now. To some he is a hero, but to many he is a disgrace.  He did what was right, what his country asked of him, and his country left him to sleep on the street.

There are 21.8 million veterans in the United States. Most of them have fought in at least two wars, and they began their service during their late teen years. They return home changed. No longer the boy that went off to war. Thirty one percent of our Vietnam Veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, followed by ten percent from the Gulf War and eleven percent from the war in Afghanistan.  PTSD not only affects the soldier, it affects their family and society as a whole. They will drink to drown the constant internal noise and often end up homeless. Many do seek help but resources are limited or the wait for services is too long.

Our veterans deserve the very best care we can give them. Funding for VA hospitals and services need to be increased before our country’s welfare budget. The basic needs of our veterans need to be met before they can begin to heal. Crisis intervention, medical services, basic housing, counseling services and active veterans groups need to be provided. This should be followed with services that will ease them back into the community such as job training, and programs that work with business to hire veterans.  All of these services currently exist but the demand far outweighs the need.  Resources are scarce and the veterans that need it the most can’t access the services.

Our veterans have given their life for our country. Some in blood, others by sacrificing the life they could have had but never will.  Support our Vets by making a donation of your time or money to a veterans group such as Disabled American VETERANS, AMVETS, the American Legion or the Wounded Warrior Project. For more information on the many ways you can support our veterans, check the relevant websites or go to http://m.military.com/spouse/military-life/military-resources/how-to-support-our-troops.html  It is our turn to fight for them.

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