Thank You for Your Service—and Now We’re Done with You

Kenny Toone is a Marine veteran who lost everything—family, purpose, religion— after returning from Iraq in 2003. “I really didn’t know who I was,” he said, recounting his attempted suicide.

“It would make me upset when people would come up to me and say ‘oh thank you for your service, welcome home. What do you know about living with these memories?'”

The documentary, “Thank You for Your Service,” which premiered on Capitol Hill this week, shows how each veteran has his or her own memories to deal with. For Kenny, it was his role in the death of several members of an Iraqi family. His unit killed a girl’s father and brothers and he couldn’t forgive himself.

For veteran Phil Straub, it was the memory of watching two members of his unit burn to death. When he came home, he would hold his newborn baby and only think about the fact that his dead friends could never do the same. 

Phil’s ex-wife, Marjouri, says she didn’t know the man who came back from war. She kept asking ‘where’s the Phil I know?’ 

And Phil would respond, ‘he’s dead.’

Phil’s thousand yard stare pierces your soul. His eyes are bloodshot and he says he’s scared to fall asleep and often doesn’t.

“They’re holding something for us,” said Joseph Tarantolo, one of the psychiatrists interviewed in the film. “Guilt, shame, confusion, the fog of war.”

Kenny is unrecognizable from his Marine Corps headshot. 100 pounds heavier, long hair, multiple facial piercings and deep sadness in his eyes that never seem devoid of tears.

His pain was so deep he tried to kill himself.

For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

This sobering statistic from Nicholas Kristof in his 2012 New York Times op-ed served as the inspiration for “Thank You for Your Service,” which explores the broken system that leaves so many our nation’s veterans hopeless. 

The filmmakers hope these stories, played out on the big screen, will begin a nationwide conversation about how we are failing the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. 

“You couldn’t have drawn up a more catastrophic way to meet mental health needs than the blue prints that were followed in this war,” said Retired CMDR Mark Russel, a Navy Psychologist who pushed the issue of mental healthcare for our troops throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, but was repeatedly shut down by his superiors.

A lack of mental healthcare providers is a nationwide problem, but the issue is exacerbated in the military community, a community that has been asked to do things that most of us will never face—and then is left to deal with the aftermath alone and unsupported.

Those who do seek help worry—rightfully so—about the impact on their career. They lose their security clearance, and face judgment from their commanders and peers.

The veterans in “Thank You for Your Service” eventually did get the help they needed, but not for a decade—and not until their pain and suffering took them to their lowest point imaginable.

We are 15 years in to our nation’s longest war, with more than 300,000 troops still deployed around the world. Will we make them suffer the way Kenny, Phil and their families have? Will we cheer for these 300,000 troops when they return home and then forget they exist?

To learn more or to view “Thank You for Your Service,” in your hometown, check out the documentary’s website.

Posted September 22, 2016


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