Ahhh….Arizona! We’ve made it into our 6th state on this 7 state trek. Before I get too far into the blog, a quick recap of New Mexico. We got here 8 days ago. As you know, we had to get a ride from southern Colorado as the weather had flipped and made our walk impossible to go as planned. Not content to quit, we rode to Albuquerque with an OIF Veteran we met in Colorado. We picked up from there.
In Albuquerque, we had the pleasure of meeting a great family who had us over for dinner. They fed us well and were able to gather some much needed gift cards for us, as well as invite some of their friends over who donated to us so we could buy food and water and all the other things two trekkers need. One of their friends, Al, a Marine Veteran, helped us out with dinner the next night and provided us a ride past the reservation when we were told travel through there was not permitted.
We trekked to Grants where we met an awesome American Legion post, post 80 to be exact. For 3 nights, they fed us, sheltered us, and carted our tired butts back to Grants for a place to sleep. They also arranged for places for us to stay for the next couple hundred miles. Thank you to Arron, Larry, Fish, Tina, and all those there who greeted us, made us feel welcome, and treated us as one of their own.
Right now, though we walked into Arizona, we are in Gallup, NM. Two members of the Legion here, Dan and Bill, have arranged a place to stay and meals. So when we’re done walking, we can call them and they bring us back. Tomorrow morning, they’ll drop us off where we finished today and we’ll just keep walking. A warm room is always preferred to a cold rock. Thanks to those in Gallup who are making this possible.
Now, on to something we’ve been thinking about. If you follow our Facebook, you will have seen some questions posted the last few days. We ask those questions not because we’re bored and just want to ask, but because we are truly interested in what you think. This whole trek, we’ve met Veterans, families of Veterans, and non-Veterans who have fed us and sheltered us. We always ask them about their experiences, good and bad, with the VA, other Veterans, and so on. We are interested to learn from as many people as possible. Each perspective provides a learning experience for us to consider. Sometimes, the responses we get parrot our own thoughts. Sometimes, we get lessons and perspectives we never considered. It is one of the most remarkable parts of this journey.
One common theme that comes up is disgust with the VA and the lack of help our Veterans and their families are receiving. Far too often we hear how the VA is failing and these failures are adding to the substance abuse, suicide, and other negative experiences people are dealing with. Here is the conclusion I’ve drawn from all I’ve heard so far. Remember, this is just my take.
When we joined the military, regardless of branch or Guard or Reserve status, we did NOT give up being people with minds or emotions. Essentially, we leased ourselves to the government and nation for a given period of time. We were contractually obligated to fulfill our duties and we did as much because of OUR individual senses of duty, loyalty, and selflessness. We ceded portions of ourselves, our individual freedoms, for a while, because that’s what the military demands. We suspended our ability to choose. We did not give it up for life.
We did not cede our internal power.
Our internal power is what gives us the ability to make choices that WE want. We gave some of our freedom up, willingly, but we never gave ourselves up. What we are is sentient beings capable of perceiving, evaluating, deciding, and acting on our conclusions. That has never changed. As a matter of fact, I feel Veterans are far better tuned for perception because we have seen, experienced, evaluated, and adapted to more than many. As a result, our conclusions, while subjective, are based on experiences that have breadth and depth beyond our peers. Every experience we have adds to our knowledge of the world, environment, and situation we find ourselves in.
Feeling this, I am confused as to why we keep making the same mistake. We are able to perceive and evaluate. And our perceptions and evaluations about the VA and like agencies are the same. Why do we continue to choose to give a free pass to our leaders who have, are, and will continue to fail us so miserably? If they were in the military (That would never happen because they’re better than us. True service to their country is beneath them. Don’t believe me? Go ask them and draw your own conclusion.) they would’ve been demoted, article 15ed, and probably had the shit kicked out of them by their peers. Why? Because the duties they are charged with, namely, oversight of our care, are not a priority. And what happened when you were charged with a mission or objective in the military and you chose to blow it off? Right.
We never gave our power away. We never gave up being able to choose. Yet, here we sit, feeling as though we have no power and no choice to better our position. We have all the power and all we have to do is choose to demonstrate that power.
In Grants, the Legion members said we, as Veterans, need to do for one another. Help each other, take care of each other, watch out for each other. We will not receive what we need from government. We will never get our leadership (I use that term loosely as they are not leaders, they are bosses, and there is a big difference) to see us as worthy of their effort. We are shit to them. But we aren’t that way to each other. Veterans help one another. We did in service and in combat. Now, we have to do it at home. The uniform is off, the duty that uniform required never goes away.
We are the true keepers of Veteran care. Veteran to Veteran. Veteran family to Veteran family. Expect nothing more.
If you are ashamed to seek help because you’re hurting and think no one understands or you think they’ll think you’re weak, talk to another Veteran. You’ll find a receptive ear and a helpful hand. If you’re struggling with substance abuse or dependence, I guarantee you you’re not alone and you are worthy of help and care. As Veterans, we owe it to one another. If you own a business or are in charge of hiring, put the word out you’re looking for a Vet to hire. If you feel no one understands and never will, you are mistaken.
Don’t let the poor examples our “leader-bosses” provide of what care means make you turn from what you need. You have the power in you to choose. Choose what is right for you. Sometimes those choices are going to hurt. Sometimes those choices might mean the end of unhealthy friendships or acquaintances, but they’re the choices that have to be made. But do not be discouraged by the incompetence and indifference shown by our leaders. There are many Veterans who have been where you are and want nothing more than to help you back to where you deserve to be.
See you on the trail,
Anthony and Tom