The inescapable nature of the political realm is taking its toll, the political climate is a significant source of stress for everyday Americans. It’s become impossible to avoid. The mental health epidemic is growing alongside our political division, these things are more interconnected than we think.
For veterans, who already face unique challenges to mental health, our unhealthy political divides can exacerbate the symptoms of PTSD many veterans live with. Veterans are community driven individuals who value the power of teamwork, we live in solidarity during our years of service. Getting out of the military removes us from that cooperative framework and we find ourselves lost in a divided society.
The divisiveness of our politics is especially difficult for veterans. In the military, we argue and complain as much as any American but there is an underlying understanding that despite our differences, we’re on the same team. That team is held together by common values, shared purpose, and history. We swear oaths, sing songs, and recite creeds that bond us to one another. When we come together for boot camp, it’s truly a beautiful thing not replicated anywhere else in society.
The military pulls together people from all races, backgrounds, classes, and forges them into a family that would die for one another. Basic training classes are some of the most diverse collections of Americans you’ll find anywhere. There will be a Black single mother from Chicago, a good ol’ boy from Texas, and Puerto Ricans from the projects of New York. In spite of their many differences, these people become brothers and sisters who would die for one another.
Veterans love this country, and we care about its future. We’re passionate about the issues that affect us, from burn pit exposures to foreign policy and we want to be involved. But in today’s environment, the omnipresent political stage feels toxic. Politics always come with a degree of anxiety, but it’s past the boiling point. Veterans have long been used as political pawns of both parties, and we retain the highest trust of any institution. Veterans must use that trust to force a measure of common sense upon the country and political class.
If we can come together, the often-lower class youth of the nation who are called to fight and bleed on foreign lands for reasons never fully explained to us – then maybe the politicians from ivory tower universities should be able to as well.
The political anxiety doesn’t feel like a byproduct or an unfortunate side effect of our discourse, it feels intentional. Both sides play off fear, anger, and stereotypes. Campaigns want us to choose sides, but veterans want to be on the side of America, not Republicans or Democrats. The extremes of the left and the right rule the day and the 24-hour news cycle feels like an assault on the American psyche. Politics in the land of the free and the home of the brave have transformed into a take no prisoners, battlefield approach to elections that isn’t healthy for any of us.
“I’ve grown suspicious, not curious about the news of the day“
The political division throughout the United States is damaging veteran mental health. The purpose of all warfare, according to St. Augustine is peace. But St. Augustine came long before Lockheed Martin, social media, and clickbait news.
After twenty plus years of war, veterans don’t want to live in a country at war with itself. The political divide, hypersensitivity and gaslighting of every issue is wearing even combat veterans like me out. We gave a lot to a country that gave us little, we spent years in countries most Americans couldn’t find on a map, and we’re exhausted. The country asked us to find WMD’s in Iraq and win the War on Terror in Afghanistan, we’ve earned the right to ask something in return. I don’t know where to draw the line, but as a veteran of America’s longest war – I know the line has to be drawn somewhere. Everyone chill out.