Last month, I read Anything But Okay by Sarah Darer Littman, a novel about injustice, the tangled world of politics, and staying true to yourself. High school junior Stella Walker struggles with ordinary problems, like friendships and crushes, while trying to keep her home life hidden. Her ex-Marine brother has been distant and unpredictable ever since coming home, but her attempts to cheer him up lead to a disaster that brings hatred to her family and friends. In the weeks that follow, Stella becomes more and more disillusioned with her perfect American life. She must figure out what patriotism really means and how to be a true American.
The book discusses several important issues in our society. My attention was specifically caught on a theme I didn't know much about; though, being a military kid, I should've had more knowledge on. Through the protagonist’s Marine brother, Rob, I learned about veterans, including how their struggles are diminished and set aside. After reading the book, I did some of my own research on how vets live in America. Here are some of the things I learned:
Employment, Poverty & Homelessness: Adjusting to civilian life after serving is hard enough, but getting a new job is a different challenge. Many brave people choose to enlist instead of or before getting a college education. Not having a degree eliminates hundreds of job options. Having no job or a low-paying one can lead to poverty as well as homelessness–the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported that over 33,000 vets experienced homelessness in 2021.
PTSD: Physical injuries are common when serving overseas. Mental scars are also debilitating but much harder to see. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition many people suffer after a traumatic event, affecting daily life for around 6% of the United States. Many veterans have PTSD due to combat horrors or other events that happened while in the military.
Getting Help: Thankfully, professional treatment for mental health has become commonplace in the past few years. Some people, however, still think that seeing a therapist or psychiatrist is unnecessary or a sign of weakness. This is a harmful view that can stop people from getting the help they need. And even when someone wants to get treatment, securing an appointment can be too expensive. Acquiring support for the struggles, mental illnesses, and loneliness some vets go through can be a long and frustrating process. Wait times may be an obstacle, and sometimes help doesn’t come fast enough.
What We Can Do: Being in the military is not easy. Trauma can leave lasting harm on those brave enough to protect our country. Their civilian life can feel like a dream–a good one that won’t last or a nightmare infected with terrifying memories. Don’t be alarmed if the person who returns from overseas does not seem the same as the one who left, but make sure to be encouraging and understanding of their problems. Sometimes encouragement won’t be enough. Sometimes (or most of the time) you will not understand what they mean or how they feel. The most important thing to do is show that you care about them. Create a safe environment, and if you think they need more help, discuss it with them and others who love them. The VA is a great resource for support. If you think they may harm themselves or others, tell people who can help (the National Suicide Hotline is 988).
Veterans are frequently made invisible. We have to improve the way they are treated; after all, they have risked their lives to protect us. Can’t we at least stand behind them?
All statistics from va.gov