04/07/2014 04:47 pm ET Updated Jun 07, 2014

Questions for Veteran Service Organizations and Me

On Saturday, I posted my thoughts surrounding the responses to the shooting at Ft. Hood and there was quite a solid discussion on what ended up being the Facebook post about the many different reactions to the challenges of coming home from war, fitting in after a deployment, and the reality of what PTSD is or isn't, and of another challenge of what is known as adjustment disorder.

Via text and phone and on Facebook a lot of ground was covered and it did little to focus my thoughts. I had conversations discussing everything from the role of promoting mercy in the response to the shooter, a theology on war and trauma and how that relates to liberation theology, all the way to the absence of ritual in coming home from war and in death (check out how troops in New Zealand memorialize the fallen), and the horrid hoops people have to jump through at the VA.

In the coming days, for my own edification and because it seems like we're spurring on at least some part of a positive conversation towards solution oriented ideas, I'll get more focused thoughts and a couple of interviews out with some of the many people who have been contributing to a fantastic, results oriented conversation.

What's so incredible to me is that we, as veterans, and our many veteran service organizations, have an opportunity, if we can be successful in our work, to dramatically impact the other roughly 96 percent of the country who has not served. In fact, if we aren't thinking that way, I don't think we're thinking big enough.

But, because my thoughts aren't yet condensed for any coherent next steps I wanted to instead throw out several questions some of you all may have thoughts or answers to about the role of veteran service organizations, and returning veterans, in creating a more socially just environment for our brothers and sisters who come home from war (is that even a goal we want?) to have a better chance of thriving in life after war. These are not rhetorical questions.

Please, pick a question and give me your responses in the comments.

  • What if veteran non-profits and support groups were successful? Why haven't we been successful yet given the amount of money spent on the issue?
  • What if all the suicides stopped, or at least matched a level of non-veteran suicides?
  • What if all veterans received jobs, or the unemployment numbers for veterans equaled that of non-veterans?
  • What if all veterans had homes, or the homeless rate was equal to that of non-veterans?
  • Would we keep fighting to end all suicides? Would we keep fighting to employ all people? Would we keep working to find warm, safe, shelter for everyone? Is our life, especially because we once volunteered to defend our country, somehow more significant than the lives of others who did not, or could not serve their country through a contract with the Department of Defense?
  • Would we be willing to close down shop if we succeeded and turn the millions of dollars of resources we've spent year after year tackling very real, very significant issues in our veteran community to tackling the larger, systematic challenges in our country that contribute to such high levels of suicides, unemployment, and homelessness not just in the veteran community, but in the community in general?
  • What would it look like for America to know its military? What, specifically, would happen?
  • Why is it that we veterans demand a host of educational, medical and financial benefits for serving our country, even after we got paid for our service, when we as veterans don't demand the same improved access to education, health care, housing and employment for others?
  • Are we veterans who are so deeply engaged in the noble, beautiful work of welcoming home our brothers and sisters from war willing to engage the rest of the country as much as we wish the rest of the country would engage with us? Are we willing to set aside the stereotypes of other, non-veterans and engage with them on a one-to-one level in the same way we ask non-veterans to lay aside the stereotypes of we who served? Or does the fact that we are victims of prejudice, allow us to be prejudicial of others?
  • Is the fact that we feel so alienated from the rest of America true because the rest of America feels so alienated from itself? We at least have one another to turn to when we seek community and acceptance. But can we find real community amongst veterans? Or is it more bickering about which organization does a better job than which other organization and we're all to stressed out to figure out how to successfully collaborate?
  • And if we succeeded, we founders and presidents and board members, inspirational speakers, redeemed lives that we (my community) pulled (my life) from the brink of despair and destruction with the help of all our communities, what would we do next?