Veterans need spiritual assistance

By Clyde Davis, Local Columnist

Richard was like the older brother to much of the neighborhood. Although he was actually Bobby’s older brother, he played that role in a lot of our lives, as some of us had no older brother of our own. When he was in high school, Richard acquired a ’55 Chevy, which he spent hours working on and more hours showing off. He was not super-cool, but kind of chubby and not a tremendous success in school. This only made him more approachable.

Something happened to Rick in Vietnam. He was a part of the generation that either volunteered or was drafted; I can’t honestly remember which in his case. When he came home, he didn’t talk much, and never joked or played. Bobby said he would spend hours walking the house at night, pacing, pacing. He didn’t hang out with his friends anymore, or cruise his car up to Eat’n’Park.

We were only in elementary school, so the initials P.T.S.D. meant nothing to us. Even less would we have understood what they stand for, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It took Rick years to get his life back together. As we know, many Vietnam veterans never did.

It is serendipitous that this newspaper recently published an interview with the Cannon Air Force Base chaplain who has just returned from Southwest Asia. The issues posed in that interview reflect some things I have been struggling with lately — is appropriate and proactive emotional care being provided to combatants and returning veterans?

In Vietnam, as I understand it, many people slipped through the system due to the draft. With the returning troops, especially the Guard and Reserve component who re-enter civilian life, is the safety net being provided to allow them the resources to readjust successfully?

Almost daily we read of suicides and murders tied to combat veterans. Is the system guiding them to the chaplains, social work officers, psychiatric centers, etc. — or are they being shuffled through?

Our state may or may not be typical of the scene. There are thousands of New Mexico National Guard personnel serving on active duty at this time, either homeland or overseas. Yet, to my knowledge, not one chaplain has been mobilized with the units. I am not saying chaplains are the only resource. But, as the recent interview pointed out, chaplains are often a front-line contact with the distressed soldier.

During my annual training last July, I was sent to chaplain the Patriot battalion out of Rio Rancho. Among our duties was a formation to welcome home a Marine reservist reconnaissance unit. Most of us can imagine what a Marine reconnaissance unit goes through. I was visiting with a first lieutenant who, in civilian life, is a third-grade teacher. I remember thinking to myself what a huge adjustment he would be making.

My question is, are we as U.S. citizens doing all we can to make sure the government takes proper emotional and spiritual care of the returning vets?

In a democracy, we have the responsibility to make sure our voices are heard.

Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at:
clyde_davis@yahoo.com