Yesterday afternoon, a 35-year-old veteran died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the middle of the Occupy Burlington encampment in City Park (read/view the stories from the local news and the AP).
While many have been quick to rush to judgements and political statements about the occupy movement, my colleague Mark reminds us not to demonize and to instead journey together, and lifts some powerful statistics and questions to ponder.
I’ve never been accused of being overly patriotic or wrapping myself in the flag. My position as a pacifist has in fact drawn criticism that I “don’t support troops” or am unpatriotic. The fact of the matter is that I don’t support wars, in part (albeit a small part in comparison to my overall objection to war because the purpose is to kill people) because we don’t take care of the people who fight in them. Both of my grandfathers were World War II veterans, and neither of them was known to talk about his experience. And that was a different war, in a different world in many ways. Veterans of Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Iraq and Afghanistan (the latter being where this individual had been deployed) find a far different reception to their service both at home and wherever they are stationed: crumbling hospitals and underfunded services, insufficient de-programming time and follow up mental health care, physical and mental illnesses that are often untreated or undiagnosed. Our veterans make up a significant portion of the population without housing (the shooting victim also being part of that demographic), and there is a very high rate of suicide among veterans.
Today, we remember and honor our veterans. I know because I sent my daughter (center, waving) to school in red, white, and blue so she could be in the town’s parade. But I feel that we have utterly failed to honor or remember our veterans, when so many are without housing, without mental health services, without support and care in the community, without jobs, without security, when one appears to have taken his own life in the midst of a conversation about the haves and the have nots, and he is only one of thousands of veterans who will fall victim to–let alone contemplate– this tragedy this year.
And so, prayers. Prayers of brokenness and confession and feeling we have failed one another. Prayers for healing and hope and justice. Prayers for the victim and his family and his community. Prayers for our veterans– the ones we celebrate and the ones we fail. Prayers for us all, with repentance, with thanksgiving, with hope.
(edited to add: news coverage after this posting have raised questions as to the victim’s military status and whether or not he was deployed in combat. Rather than changing my initial words, I just add here that the man may not have been a military veteran. I think the reflection about how we fail our veterans is valid, whether or not this particular man serves as an example.)