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Mares: Supporting Vets

The Vermont Legislature recently passed a resolution that "the General Assembly recognizes the need for public awareness of the military and veteran suicides and the need to support outreach programs for veterans."

Then they turned their attention back to transportation, health care, education and budget deficits.

But Valerie Pallotta cannot go back to thinking about other things. Her son Josh, a National Guard veteran of the Afghan war, committed suicide last fall.

I know her from church and I wondered how she copes with this tragedy. She wears Josh's dog tags and the bracelet Josh wore in memory of two soldiers who were killed in action while he was deployed. One of them had been standing right next to Josh, so Valerie thinks Josh may have suffered some survivor's guilt.

Even before Josh deployed, Valerie and several other women formed the first Vermont chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America, to help troops during deployment and after their return. Last year they won a Governor's Award for Outstanding Community Service.

Valerie laments the difference in time given to prepare for war and that given to re-adjust to civilian life. She says Josh posted a song on Facebook that includes the line, 'They taught me how to put that uniform on, I just can't get it off.'

Valerie thinks National Guard members have a tougher time re-integrating into civilian life than those in the regular army who come back to a regular base. She says, “After Josh started having issues, was disengaging and then ultimately medically discharged from the Guard he lost that brotherhood, the comradeship, the drills, the brother to brother support that would have helped him re-adjust."

After Josh died, Valerie might have ended her involvement in veterans’ affairs, but says, “… then I hear other veterans' stories and how they made the decision to fight the fight because they know now someone cares and I get re-energized to help them."

Efforts to ease the society-wide isolation veterans can feel are important. David Morris, a Marine Corps veteran and journalist has written about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He says, "No other people in history is as disconnected from the brutality of war as is the United States today."

Valerie agrees, saying, “It's one thing to say we support our Troops and Veterans, it's another to get out there and advocate for them so they get the services and support they need and deserve.”

Whether we know it or not, each of us has a veteran in our lives, with wounds both visible and invisible.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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