Veteran Talk – The Trauma Olympics

(Pensacola, Florida; Jan. 25, 2023) – The Trauma Olympics don’t actually exists, but there are many people, both veterans and civilians, who still try to root for them!

I’ve never tried to hide my frustration, indeed, my outrage and indignation, that I’ve been sidelined and marginalized by many veterans organizations and other trauma support groups because I’m ‘the wrong kind’ of veteran.  Namely, I’m not a veteran of direct combat.  According to these well-meaning and exceptionally misguided souls, my struggles with trauma are therefore not really ‘real.’

That’s bullshit.  Anyone who has survived sexual assault, muggings (indeed, all types of armed robberies), vehicular accidents, natural disasters, or even a divorce knows that trauma is inflicted by far more events in our world than merely combat.

Before we continue, let me ensure we’re all on the same page in this conversation.  I am not a veteran of direct combat, therefore I will not try to join up with a group specifically for combat vets anymore than I’d try to connect with a group for survivors of sexual assault.  Specific support groups exist because people with similar experiences do have unique aspects to the trauma they faced.

I myself survived a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, and three workplace assaults (to name just a little of the crap I faced in my 20 years in the Navy).  I can certainly relate to combat vets, and they to me, to a large degree.  But the emotional aftermath of a typhoon (a natural force) demolishing the building I was in during the storm is not going to leave the same mental scars as would facing a fellow human being doing all he or she can to kill you.  There’s nothing wrong, and everything right, with seeking out those who survived the same experience as we did in order to help find healing.

However, too often I’ve been subjected to rejection because an organization billing itself as a ‘general’ veteran support group instead only recognized combat trauma as ‘real’ trauma.  It’s amazing how many nice, polite, sympathetic, and even elegant ways people have found to tell me I’m basically a poser because, of course, my trauma can’t be real since it wasn’t inflicted at the point of a hostile gun or IED.

As I said, that’s bullshit.

Imagine it this way: you walk into an emergency room with a really broken arm.  We’re talking bone sticking out, blood freely running, etc.  You are injured.  You need help.

The ER staff tells you to get over it because their function is to help people with broken legs.  You know, they say, people with real trauma.

We all know on the face of it that’s an absurd situation.  A person with a broken leg needs a lot of help to heal since their very mobility is impaired.  However, just because you can walk doesn’t mean you’re not also in need of care and support.  You might not need as much as does the person with the broken leg, but you do.

That’s what I’ve experienced for many years—being told I don’t belong with a veterans group because I don’t have real traumas in my past since I’m not a combat vet.

However, I’m an obstinate son of a bitch.  I don’t quit.  I might be slow, methodical, and not given to radical, swift action, but I don’t stop.  It’s taken a lot of years, but I might finally be in a position to hook up with a veterans group that will provide that community.

There’s no easy answer if you’re also suffering from the Trauma Olympics.  I can only encourage you to keep putting one foot in front of the other in life and don’t stop seeking support.  When I say ‘life is worth it,’ I’m not spouting some morale-boosting platitude.  I survived a suicide attempt in 1998 that put me in the hospital for three days.  I struggled with burning myself (while in the Navy) for a long time.  I know how hard ‘putting one foot in front of the other’ can be, but that’s also why I know it’s worth it.

If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, then I strongly encourage you to skip to the bottom and call the Veterans Crisis Line.  I’ve used them myself twice, and they got me the help I needed.  I’ve also utilized Stop Soldier Suicide (also linked below).  That’s two different resources that did help a veteran (me) who was told by others he was the ‘wrong kind of veteran.’

If you know of other national or regional organizations that do welcome all veterans who suffered trauma (regardless of that trauma’s cause), please let me know in the comments section.  I’ll check them out.  If I’m comfortable with that group, I’ll add it to the resources I list whenever I do a Veteran Talk or even a Mental Health column.

There are no Trauma Olympics.  If you’ve suffered an assault, a near-miss, been shot at (or been shot), lost someone violently, or were abused…those are real.  You might not need the same level and type of help as someone else (I don’t need the kind of support a sexual assault survivor needs because I suffered workplace assaults, not sexual assault), but you do deserve to be treated with respect and supported by the veteran community.

Don’t give up.  Life really is worth it, even if you’re in the same spot I’ve been in where you have no one to advocate for you but yourself.  Be the squeaky wheel.  Be polite and professional, but be firm and don’t give up.

You’re worth it.

– Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 988, and press 1; or, go to: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/hotline

– Stop Soldier Suicide: 1-844-317-1136, or go to: https://stopsoldiersuicide.org/

Check out my video episode about this at: https://youtu.be/D1uESKLBjqY

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