The American military has stage three cancer. The ranks of active duty and retired soldiers are being winnowed by an epidemic that has been metastasizing for decades with much lip service but no unified approach to healing.
The mental health crisis that is gripping GenZ is now fully engulfing the military and putting our war-fighting ability and national pride in serious peril.
But some are fighting against it, saving who they can. By using targeted methods of healing a few are able to reach the soldiers that have the deepest and most grave of wounds: Moral Injuries.
Harvester Of Sorrow
A special forces operator is on a solo mission somewhere in the middle east. His mission? Observe and report on the movements of a high value target (HVT). Using old and new reconnaissance tech, the operator was able to record conversations and take video of the HVT.
But the mission that was already high pressure took a dark turn. Every night the HVT would violently force himself onto his twelve year old nephew. This happened for weeks and each time the operator would have to stay at his post, listen to this happen and not interfere, command had given clear orders that the HVT had to be tracked and the operators cover not be blown. Eventually after pleading with his commander to let him kill the HVT and stop the abuse the operator took matters into his own hands, disobeyed orders, and terminated the HVT with extreme prejudice.
How does a human return to a normal life in the US after experiencing such depths of human suffering?
The answer is simple. You don’t.
You are never normal again. And this burden of moral injury, especially ones borne by those in Special Forces are especially acute and have a high fatality rate.
Anywhere from 17 to 22 veterans commit suicide per day in the United States.
In 2022 the suicide rate peaked and a study showed that, since 9/11, four times as many soldiers died by suicide than by combat. What’s worse is that vets with PTSD are left to their own devices by one of the most feckless, mismanaged and medically backward establishments on the planet; Veterans Affairs.
The divorce rate for combat veterans is around 70% and even higher for special forces. The idea of a “military family dynasty” is all but gone and military families are fractured across the country. The only support system in place for active duty military that has any handle on methodologies that heal are the chaplains.
But as of 2020 there are only 1400 active duty chaplains in the US military that has over 1.3 million soldiers on active duty. While many are not in combat, it’s not uncommon for a chaplain to look after the mental and spiritual care of hundreds of soldiers.
This is a top down problem. Chaplains and High Command often have good relationships and are aware of the issues brewing in the ranks, but fixing PTSD costs money and budgets aren’t made by Brass, they’re made by Congress. And Congress is more concerned with sending 40 billion dollars worth of weapons to Ukraine than they do military families.
Army Chaplain so-and-so isn’t funding their campaigns, Raytheon is.
So Congress earmarks the money for the Raytheon missles and Chaplain whats-his-name can wait his turn. That’s how the game works. Thanks for playing.
Thankfully there are some people trying to support the chaplains. Joel McDaniel is the founder and CEO of Operation Resolute and since 2013 Joel and his staff have served 6841 active duty members at over 242 events across North Carolina. The Piedmont of North Carolina is home to the largest military footprint in the world thanks to Camp Lejeune, Pope AFB and Fort Bragg.
Joel is son of Arkansas, former pastor and is above all, a humble man: “I’m just a guy that had some resources and I’ve been able to leverage those resources to hopefully make a difference in active duty military”.
Joel is quick to point out that all he does is make the connections and the chaplains do all the mental health work.
At its core Operation Resolute is a logistics outfit; putting together cookouts, fishing trips, hunting excursions, theme park days and dinners for soldiers (mainly Special Forces) to attend and interact with their families, chaplains and brothers in arms.
It’s the moments of connection that allow the chaplains to do their work and give the soldiers the opportunity to feel normal again, to disarm for a moment and open up about their trauma. It’s simple, but it’s something the military high command hasn’t been able to make a priority.
Sex change surgeries? Sure.
Father-daughter dances? Back of the line bub.
Welcome To The Suck
It’s a struggle to finish this article on a positive note because the outlook is so bleak. How can you convince a monolithic institution like the military that their soldiers are safer in combat than they are at home? The work of organizations like Operation Resolute has literally saved lives and healed families but there is so much more to be done.
For this Veterans Day take a moment to consider the price these men and women have paid and how you can help.
But make no mistake, this is not a call for donations. If you want to see real change we need to hold our elected officials to a higher standard. A standard of excellence. Something that is taken for granted when those same officials send our sons and daughters into harm’s way to fight; to hand out and receive violence to uphold an ideal that many at home can’t remember or wish to do away with.