Vietnam vet offers ways to help returning veterans adjust
No matter how well-adjusted returning or returned veterans may seem, they are likely carrying deep emotional wounds; pain that remains with them for the rest of their lives, says Vietnam veteran and author Ord Elliott.
“When I came back from the war, I filed all that pain away as ‘personal,’ but it invariably came out in my creative writing, and I think that kept me much more sane,” said Elliott, a former platoon commander with the Marines and author of The Warrior’s Silence.
“I still feel a sense that something was lost within me from that war, and it kills me to think that our country’s most recent wars have done the same to the latest generation of military personnel. When I hear reports of alarming suicide rates among soldiers and problems with drugs and homelessness, it reminds me of friends I’ve lost and the lives they weren’t able to have.”
Although he intended to author books on business, Elliott instead found himself writing poems about his war experience, poems that, through the years, became an extremely helpful, therapeutic activity.
“It just came out of me about five years after coming home,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, for many of today’s younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, they are expressing their pain through alcoholism, drugs, crime, depression and violence,” despite the fact that there are many avenues available to veterans if they’re having a hard time adjusting to civilian life after combat.
“In some ways, I was lucky. I had a good education from Princeton, a sense of purpose, and I never had a full-blown case of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Elliott said, with appreciation in his voice. “But I think it’s safe to say all vets who have seen combat are haunted by what they’ve endured.”
Although most civilians can never understand the horrors of war ~ of wondering non-stop what that last moment of life might be like ~ there are ways in which the families of veterans, and others, can help:
• Make creative expression available. Elliott has heard story after story involving vets who simply do not want to talk about their combat stress. Many simply do not know how to find catharsis in constructive ways. Thoughts and emotions, however, can also be expressed ~ released ~ in creative pursuits such as writing, art, music and even cooking.
• Patience and understanding. “You won’t go wrong with loving tolerance while seeking the help of a trained professional to help your veteran work through problems like depression and anxiety,” Elliott said. “It’s important to provide emotional support, including helping vets who need it to get to appointments and joining in on family sessions.”
• Thoroughly consider your vote. There are many outstanding efforts going on with non-profits that help today’s returning vets, but the best medicine by far is prevention, Elliot said. In 2001, when the Iraq War was gearing up, that same feeling of anticipation and excitement that he experienced before entering Vietnam washed over Elliott. “I was surprised that I could feel that way, but then, I quickly remembered all that I’ve been through with the reality of war,” he says. “If families and citizens really want to help the men and women of the U.S. military, they will be wary of politicians who haven’t been in combat and who are all too quick to the war trigger.”
To learn more about the author, his other books and where they are available for purchase, visit www.ordelliott.com.