Mental health needs to be treated, not stigmatized, or worse, criminalized. Anyone who would take that statement as “crazy” would probably be perceived as… crazy! Because that’s common sense: mental health needs to be treated, like, veterans are welcomed, supported, and listened to.
“I have seen and done enough horrible things to last me a lifetime” said Jeffrey M. Lucey to a family member after he came back from the war. In March 2008 Joyce and Kevin Lucey, his parents, spoke at the Winter Soldier Afghanistan and Iraq. Anyone who has seen the footage on IVAW’s website will remember their immense courage and strength as they became over the years, among the most powerful advocates in raising awareness about the human cost of war, and what they refer to as the “hidden wound” or “cancer of the soul” often known as PTSD. “Our fear was that he would be physically harmed, said Joyce Lucey. We would have never imagined that an emotional wound could be lethal.” Lance Corporal Jeffrey M. Lucey had committed suicide less than a year after he came back from Iraq.
If more people are definitely aware today, there is still a very long way to go until veterans get the attention they deserve. “My child was struggling to survive, said Joyce Lucey in 2008, and we did not know who to turn to. We had no guidance. We hear a lot about supporting our troops, but I’ll tell you, we felt isolated, abandoned, and alone. While the rest of the country lived on, going to Disney Land, shopping, living their daily life, our days consisted of constant fear, apprehension, helplessness while we would watch this young man being consumed by the cancer that ravaged his soul.” Isolated, abandoned, and alone… While it is not “crazy” to dream of a society where veterans would be decently, concretely and humanly supported, as well as there relatives, the lack of support is killing veterans across the US more than seven years after Jeff’s parents and hundreds of others began to speak out. Veterans continue to be overrepresented in the homeless population of America. It is not incidental that most of them have a mental and/or physical disability (54%). In January 2014, communities across America identified 49,933 homeless veterans during point-in-time counts, which represents 8.6 percent of the total homeless population (National Alliance to End Homelessness. The State of Homelessness in America, 2015.)
Well… when I claim that the “lack of support” is what kills veterans (and not “PTSD”…), I should probably begin to fear my own craziness. Because even that, might be a crazy understatement when, in fact, very often, instead of being properly treated, “craziness” gets criminalized. Today I received Robert Greenwald’s “crazy” note about the last three-part film series that he and Brave New Films produced: “More than half of all suspects shot and killed by police were suffering from mental illness—this is crazy, writes Greenwald. And over 300,000 Americans in prison today have a mental illness diagnosis. You see it almost every day in the media now: confrontations with people that have mental illness and the police—and far too many times these encounters end with death. Or, mentally ill people find themselves in a totally abusive and dysfunctional prison system, instead of getting the appropriate care they so desperately need.”
While it is not “crazy” to dream of a society where veterans—especially the ones who deal with the emotional wounds of war—would be decently, concretely and humanly supported, is it “crazy” to dream of a society where mental health is treated and not criminalized? Who is “crazy” and what is “crazy” here?
From the Luceys to other beautiful encounters that made Walking Wounded possible, I vividly remember the Iraq War veteran Lisa M. Davis’ invaluable efforts to bring attention, within the Chicago Police Dept. where she works, to the need of having police officers properly trained to interact with veterans in crisis during interventions. Treating and not criminalizing. Like Lisa, most veterans know what that means. And that’s not crazy at all. Hopefully.
Jeff’s “last harbour:” his dad, Kevin Lucey, rocked him to sleep one last time on the night before his death. Drawing by Maël.