As a kid, I read comic books about war. World War Two had ended not long before. We were fighting in Korea, and the Cold War would continue after. The soldiers and marines in those comic books were amazing. They could fire a rifle, throw a grenade then throw a punch and crack wise all at the same time. Humor has always been part of soldiers’ equipment. Wisecracks ease the burdens of pained hearts. War, after all, is serious stuff.
So is coming home.
One in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and veterans account for 20 percent of U.S. suicides, according to facethefacts.org, a project of George Washington University. Tens of thousands of vets have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). Then there are all those vets who have not been diagnosed.
Some people get it. Last Sunday, The Pathway Home, a non-profit, non-government treatment center for Iraq-Afghanistan vets at the Veterans Home in Yountville, held a show of veterans’ art. Robert Green Fine Arts in Mill Valley donated the space. The show was based on work by the Walking Point Foundation. Walking Point helps veterans come to grips with their wounds through art. Volunteer mentors work with the vets in Yountville, encouraging and guiding at the vets’ pace. My friend Jim Shay, a fabulous painter, is one of the mentors.
Not surprisingly, the striking paintings, drawings, collages and masks emphasized death. That’s what men in combat experience. Additionally, several of the men read prose and poetry. They revealed what they’d been through and the raw emotions with which they must deal daily. Their words were profound and meaningful because they were real. No comic book heroism here.
The Pathway Home understands what our veterans have been through, what help they’re getting from the Department of Veterans Affairs and what they’re not getting. It offers a residential setting in which veterans—at no cost—receive comprehensive, leading edge therapy to provide the tools needed to help complete educational programs, get jobs, restore personal relationships and finally “come home.” Technology, art and service dogs all play a role in the healing process. The Pathway Home has treated more than 380 veterans since its inception in January 2008.
The Walking Point Foundation mentors vets through the arts. It helps them express themselves, connect with others and heal. In addition to The Pathway Home, Walking Point works with the Palo Alto Veterans Administration. It soon will expand to the Oakland Vet Center, the Homeless Veterans Rehabilitation Program at the Menlo Park VA, the San Francisco VA, the San Francisco Vet Center and the San Rafael Vet Center. It hopes to develop a national model to assist vets everywhere.
Most of us have heard the old saying, “War is hell.” Coming home can be hell, too. We also know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We can bitch. Or we can do. I ask you to offer our vets a better route by going to Pathways’ and Walking Point’s web sites and making a donation.
This column honors the memory of 1LT Howard Schnabolk, US Army, who never got the chance to come home.
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