My own symptoms of post traumatic stress had faded within six months or so of coming home, and I was relieved. Then came my delayed reaction to a 10-year passage of time from the day I drove over the berm into Iraq as a soldier, sparked by that photo, and it all washed away.
While the national unemployment rate (population 18 and over) hovers at 7.5 percent, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (Gulf War Era II or Post-9/11 veterans) face a higher rate of unemployment at 10.8 percent.
I am doing this so that the public can witness the trauma that follows war. Witness. Because this trauma is as much yours as it is ours. Witness and own it. Witnessing breaks the isolation trauma creates. Witnessing furthers the healing of individuals and of our society.
"Duration of the disturbance," says the manual, "is more than 1 month." I look at my colleague's wall calendar. It's 29 days since I left Iraq and the nightmares have stopped, so I don't have PTSD. Or at least I'm not diagnosable. I feel a wash of relief.
They wrote haikus about sand and showers and rape. They crafted dialogue replete with four-letter words, gallows humor and lingering questions. "They" are the 30 courageous war veterans who attended a workshop in Iowa City April 5-7 entitled Writing My Way Back Home.
It seems to me that there's a lesson here for those who are trying to help veterans who have returned home with mental disorders. Formal treatment can be very helpful and more veterans need to get access to it, but laughter can also be a great healer.
It is a sad time in our history when an American combat veteran must resort to such an extreme measure to alleviate the pain and suffering from injuries he received fighting in the name of our country.
Ten years after the start of the Iraq War, we're all familiar with the case for hiring veterans: they're mature, responsible and are used to chaotic, ambiguous environments. So why is the gap between veteran and nonveteran unemployment rates 9.4 percent and 7.9 percent respectively?
It is worth noting that the tremendous human costs of the war in Iraq would have been much greater, were it not for breakthroughs in combat medicine deployed for the first time on a broad scale in Iraq.
There are honorable deaths, there may be necessary wars. But this was neither honorable nor necessary. Does telling the truth blame the soldiers? It shouldn't, but it certainly should make the powerful less comfortable.
War is a force that has given me meaning. When I came home, it was war that ultimately forced me back into the mountains and into wilderness. I learned of the joy of an alpine start and a mountain top sunrise.
In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama announced that by this time next year, 34,000 troops will have been called back from Afghanistan. While that is good news, especially to military families, there are other things to consider.
In February, we're told that our minds should revolve around foil-wrapped chocolates, bouquets of flowers and celebrating how much our loved ones mean to us. But we should also remember the military women struggling to return to their civilian lives as mothers, wives and friends.
Kerry and Hagel (like Colin Powell) missed their historical moment. Had they opposed Bush's war they might have made a difference. Now perhaps they can use their cabinet posts to implement a policy or two of atonement.