Jeff always knew he wanted to be in the military. He was friendly and gregarious, but also an incredibly hard worker and very smart.
Kevin was also very smart, but was more reserved and introspective. He didn't know if the military life was the one for him, but some pressure from his family and the fact that the ROTC would cover his schooling in exchange for some military service made him go that path. Kevin suffered from depression and mood swings. Mental illness ran in both Mark and Carol's families, but it was never really talked about.
Kevin hangs himself just as military career is about to start. Jeff dies in Iraq about a year later.
This is obviously emotionally devastating for the remainder of the family. What makes an already terrible situation worse is the different way that the family is treated after each of the boys deaths. Jeff's funeral is attended by hundreds of people, he's called a hero, people say the Graham's should be proud. When Kevin died people were less supportive, especially a few of his ROTC instructors who told his parents that Kevin was a coward and was probably in hell. (Yeah, said that to his parent's faces.)
Mark and Carol's eyes are opened to the problem that the military has with dealing with mental illness and it's treatments. If your superior officers find out that you go to therapy it could negatively affect your career. If your peers find out you could be ostracized and even harmed. Military suicide is not a small problem. In 2004, 67 soldiers committed suicide; in 2005, 87. And that doesn't even take into account when a soldier harms others (I think everyone can remember at least one incident of hearing a soldier that shot their spouse, maybe others and then themselves.) Mark and Carol begin several different initiatives to help soldiers get the help that they need, even though Mark knows that he will ruffle many feathers and that it could negatively affect his career (he does and it does).
One thing that the author only talks about in the epilogue is the link between military sexual assault and military suicide. We will probably never have accurate numbers about these incidents because so many sexual assaults go unreported for fear of reprisals. I'd be interested (and probably really saddened and disheartened) to know more about this.
(On a side note, women who serve in the military are , I don't even know. They need all of our respect and help when and if they need it. I could never be in the military so the women who are brave enough to face the dangers they do will always have my humble thanks and utmost gratitude. Rock stars.)
Basically here's what it boils down to:
- The stigma against mental illness needs to stop. It prevents people from getting the support and the help that they need in many cases. This doesn't just include the people who are sick but their family and friends as well.
- Human beings need to be decent to each other, it's really not our strong point but we need to try harder.
- The attitude in our armed forces needs to change. If you have PTSD you're not a "coward" or a "pussy". You're someone who has been traumatized and needs help. The Graham family is working so hard to make this a reality.
You know how sometimes you read a book and the subject matter is hard and frustrating but the book is well written and you learn so much that you're so glad you read it? This is one of those books. 4 out of 5 stars.
|* I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books*|