Category Archives: veterans

The Hidden Heroes of Veteran’s Day

Hidden Heroes of Veterans DayTrue heroism is a quiet thing. It does not seek the spotlight nor is it dependent upon the recognition of others. It comes from a place of selflessness where doing the right thing is the only option. And yet no hero stands alone. Behind each is a hidden hero, a quiet corps of support and caring there in times of peace and struggle.

This Veteran’s Day, as I pay homage to those who came before me, served alongside me, and currently serve, I choose to also honor the silent heroism of the military caregiver. Having been both an active duty servicemember and a military spouse, now a Marine mom, I know firsthand that service is not a solitary undertaking. And yet I have little grasp on what it means to be the caregiver for a wounded warrior in a post-9/11 world.

Hidden Heroes of Veteran’s Day: The Post-9/11 Caregiver

In the United States there are an estimated 5.5 million military caregivers. Of these, 1.1 million (nearly 20%) are caring for post-9/11 veterans.

These caregivers tend to be younger than those of other eras. They are caring for a younger veteran often with debilitating injury, mental health or substance use condition.

Most are employed, and not connected to a support network. Many are caring for other non-military family members as well – such as children.

Many of these people experience care and/or stress related health issues, report strain in family relationships, and incur workplace difficulties.   

Imagine the strength of character and spirit this takes to be this person, then try to not use the word hero in describing that.

Ever so slowly, more people are starting to see that these caregivers deserve to be honored for their service as well. That recognition can be as simple as lending a hand with daily tasks to take some of the burden from their shoulders. Better yet are those out there fully embracing these heroes, supporting them, and lifting them up through programs designed to help care for the caregiver.

Vail Veterans Program - Healing on the Slopes

The Vail Veterans Program, founded by Cheryl Jensen -a thankful American with no military ties– in 2004, began as an adaptive winter ski program. That first season there were just seven wounded warriors finding strength and healing on the slopes. Over a decade later the program has welcomed into the fold 500 severely injured veterans and over 1,000 family members and caregivers.

This unique program, founded by one person with a passion for honoring those who serve, has promoted physical and emotional healing for so many. This year Cheryl and her team have launched a program focused entirely on the Caregiver Hero.

Over the course of three days in a world-class resort, these heroes lay down the mantles they carry and allow themselves to be cared for, lifted up and renewed. Here they will partake in self-awareness programs, yoga, meditation, outdoor recreation, and spa treatments. This is not pampering, it is rejuvenation to strengthen them in their mission.

Hidden Heroes of Veterans Day

One of the things I remember most about my days of service was the way a meal {usually lousy, ugh Galley food} shared helped to wind down a day’s work. At the time it just seemed like everyday stuff, but looking back I understand what was happening, we were bonding and drawing strength from each other. Hearing that group meals were part of this caregiver program made me understand that Cheryl and her team have an understanding of the importance of bonding through shared experience even over something as simple as a meal.

I was moved to find out that all services provided by the Vail Veterans program are 100% free. Not one dime is paid by these heroes. In Cheryl’s words, “They’ve given enough.”

If you’d like to join me in honoring these hidden heroes this Veteran’s Day {or any day, seriously a random Tuesday out of the blue is perfect for taking time out to be thankful, one day just isn’t enough in my opinion} here is a list of organizations that help military caregivers and how you can help through donating funds, time, dedication.

Vail Veterans Program - Helping Hero Families

Vail Veterans

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)

Women of Valor

The Fisher House Foundation

Let The “Crazy” Ones Out

The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone. ~Robin Williams.

I believe that there exists a filament within each of us. Rooted in our hearts, it entwines itself throughout our being as it attaches like an umbilicus to our minds. The molecules within are dense and strong, yet pliable, having the ability to withstand the onslaught of all that makes us. In some of us it can transfigure, becoming gossamer, at times a mere wisp of a root. Barely holding us together.

When that filament thins to transparency, or breaks all together, so much can be lost. 

Heroes

Words

Artists

Lovers

Beauty

Friends

Faith

Children

Hope

As the media cacophony reaches a crescendo about the life and addictions of Robin Williams, I imagine his filament. Growing ever thinner. Fading away.

Time and I again I hear someone on TV say things like, “…recently returned to rehab” or “…struggled with addiction.” Were he to have died from cancer the narrative would undoubtedly have been different.  We’d be hearing things like, “After a long and courageous battle with…” It seems that where mental illness is involved – addiction, depression – there is little room to acknowledge courage. After all a gifted, iconic, beloved, and wealthy star could have no “reason” to take his own life. 

Depression has about as much reason as a cancer cell does.

They both choose their victims at random. Preying upon people from all walks of life with no regard for the size of one’s bank account or contributions to humanity.  They eat away at the people we are, changing the very structure of our being, leaving behind destruction in their wake.

Yet cancer gets walks, runs, standing up to. While depression – mental illness – gets shoved into a dark corner, hidden in a closet, stuffed inside. Why? Does anyone really think that someone chooses mental illness? They just wake up one day and say, “Today I think I’d like to ruin everything I’ve ever worked for, and hey maybe destroy the lives of those who love me while I’m at it?” No, they don’t. The thoughts choose, consuming them like cancer.

Until society as a whole can open that closet, let The “Crazy” Ones out, and treat the suffering as equal to anyone with any other disease they didn’t choose to get, we will find ourselves here again. The shock and sadness will come back. More lives will be lost. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America*. It is the 3rd leading cause of death in people between 15 and 24 years old*. Every day 22 American Veterans take their own lives**. 

While we all talk about our favorite Robin Williams movies (mine: Good Will Hunting, Hook, & What Dreams May Come) can we each make a little time to reach out. If you suffer from depression, tell someone. Talk, they want to listen. Talking can help.

Suicidal thoughts are not personal. They don’t mean that the person having them doesn’t love you enough. They are a part of the pathology of an illness that thrives -amongst other things – on isolation, shame, and fear.  If you know someone who is fighting a courageous battle with metal illness, tell them you stand with them. You aren’t expected to understand molecular biology to comfort a friend with cancer, you don’t have to be a psychologist to aid in the war with depression. 

Countless people at this very moment walk around with paper-thin filaments holding them together.

If you need help right now, visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call (800) 273-TALK

 

* Source: Centers for Disease Control

** Source: Veterans Administration

Veteran’s Day: A Letter To Those I Served Alongside

n’s DayDear Brothers and Sisters,

Some of us came for a cause, moved to serve by life-altering happenstance. Others arrived here in the footsteps of long family tradition. Many came in search of purpose, lost and hoping to find ourselves. A few arrived, escorted by lack of choice. We were so young. Children really, holding on with ever slackening grip to the carefree days of youth. No matter how, or from where we came, we would depart with bonds that tether us forever, together.

Through war, in peace, in times of victory and gathered together to ward off the pains of defeat, we are one. We have served this great nation. Some have given far more that others can comprehend, the scars of which they carry both outwardly and within. Yet, not one of us left without the tie that binds. In the hearts of all who have served rests the light of those who went before us, and hope for those to come.

My time in the uniform of the United States Navy, has long since passed. The pride I have in being one amongst you, a member of the family of Veterans who served, and continue to serve, defending the liberty of this country, fighting for the freedom of uncountable others, rendering aid to those in need, will not diminish with time. I am honored to stand along side of each of you, and shall always be.

With Gratitude,

Lara DiPaola
Formerly Aviation Boatswains Mate (90-94)
United States Navy

Photo credit: “Vietnam Reflections” by Lee Teter

 

This Veteran’s Day, would you consider lending your voice, time, support and/or money to charities that help heal the wounds -both seen and unseen- of my fellow veterans?

“Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul.” -Michel de Montaigne

Operation Freedom Paws provides service dogs to veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Musicorps is an amazing concept and effort! They teach music to veterans who’s lives have been forever changed by the loss of limbs, traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD. This past week a band of brothers -and actual band– took the stage with Roger Waters of Pink Floyd in the Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert.

Sew Much Comfort makes adaptive clothing for the wounded. I personally would never have thought about a something as simple, yet necessary, as clothing altered for those who have lost limbs. Read more about this wonderful effort in this post by my friend Candace at Army Wives Lives.

For more information on charities that may not have the backing of big corporations or foundations, but could sure use yours, see this post from the indomitable and inspiring Lisa Douglas, military mom to seven and author of one of my favorite blogs, Crazy Adventures in Parenting.

Let us also not forget that though today is Veteran’s Day, no veteran serves alone. They take with them, to all theaters of battle and peace, the hearts and souls of their families. One of my favorite organizations that helps support military families is Operation Shower, read all about the great work they do in this post by the ever gifted (seriously, I want to BE her) Dawn Sandomeno of Party Blueprints.