All I did was go to a movie, eat a jumbo tub of popcorn and fall asleep watching TV. But I’m totally exhausted.
Not in the fatigued sense of the word, but exhausted as in spent, drained, tapped out from the endless barrage of negative news related to the military.
My Navy husband and I have been lazing around most evenings, staring like zombies into our television until peeling ourselves off the couch and wandering off to bed. During these marathons of nightly sloth, our metabolisms slow to a crawl, allowing maximum fat storage, and our breathing decreases to a rate symptomatic of clinical coma.
“Hey Hon, you wanna go to the movies tonight?” my husband called from work to suggest. Although the outing still involved sloth – and thanks to the theater snack bar, gluttony – we thought leaving the house earned us major points for effort.
We’d wanted to see “American Sniper” ever since its December release, and were even more intrigued by Navy Seal Chris Kyle since the media coverage of the murder trial surrounding his death at the hands of ex-Marine Eddie Ray Routh.
The movie did not disappoint, but it certainly devastated. Watching the horrific portrayals of what our veterans have endured tapped into our deepest human sense of fear, morality and justice. I was too riveted to cry until the end when real-life footage of hundreds of people waving American flags along Interstate 35 in Central Texas honored Chris Kyle’s funeral procession. It had me blubbering like a baby.
Back at home, we resisted the urge to spend the remainder of our evening on the couch, opting instead to channel surf in bed, which ironically lent itself to even more inertia. Pressing the clicker, I came upon the HBO documentary “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1.”
“Hey, that just won an Oscar,” my husband piped up from his pillow. According to the documentary that portrays the stresses on the staff at the VA’s only Crisis Hotline Center, over 22 veterans kill themselves every day, and in 2012 the number of active duty suicides surpassed U.S. combat deaths. The responders are shown deftly fielding tense calls from veterans who want to hurt themselves or others. Many callers report flashbacks and insomnia. Some have weapons or have ingested pills. Some hold on until police arrive. Others hang up.
Drained from digesting so much popcorn and gut-wrenching reality, my husband snored that night like a hacksaw.
In the morning, we heard the news: “The jury rejected Eddie Ray Routh’s insanity defense, finding him guilty of two counts of murder.” Two years ago, Routh’s mother – knowing that Chris Kyle worked with struggling veterans – asked if he could help her son who had recently been diagnosed with PTSD. One week later, Routh shot and killed Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield at the rifle range where Kyle often took fellow vets.
It took the jury less than two hours to decide that, despite evidence that Routh suffered from mental illness, he did not meet the burden of proof for legal insanity. In the hours that followed the verdict, commentators, reporters, and the public debated whether justice was served.
Some recognized the complexity and irony of the case and wondered whether Chris Kyle, who served his country with distinction as a Navy Seal sniper through four combat tours, would still be helping fellow veterans if Routh hadn’t slipped through cracks in the VA’s system. Whereas others went to simplified extremes: “Only in back-assward Texas would they convict the killer of a child-killer” and “I’d give Routh the chair two times over.”
Just as I was hoping to take a rest from all this disheartening news about our military veterans, my husband brought home a Stars and Stripes article by Travis Tritten. On Feb. 25, top enlisted leaders told Congress our military is woefully unprepared for conflict because service persons are anxious about their uncertain future. The 24-hour cycle of war-weary news regarding further drastic defense cuts and constant threats to jobs, pay and benefits has taken its toll on morale and readiness.
As I contemplate what tragedies could befall the next generation of veterans, I realize that we can’t rest on war-weariness. We should get off our lazy duffs and do something to help those who served tirelessly. Volunteer. Make a call. Write a letter. Spread the word. Let our elected officials know that the United States military cannot defend this country without adequate support for service persons, their families and our veterans.
Please share the VA’s Crisis Hotline contact information: call (800) 273-8255 Press1; text 838255; or confidential chat online at www.veteranscrisisline.net.
– Read more of Lisa Molinari’s columns at www.themeatandpotatoesoflife.com