On average, 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States. Vietnam veteran Vela Giri said those numbers are anticipated to increase with the chaotic end of the “forever” war in Afghanistan triggering post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), depression, insomnia, and substance abuse.
Giri said many Americans now realize how difficult it has been for Vietnam veterans to reintegrate into society.
“They understand the whole reason for the war was a lie,” Giri said. “The people who were drafted and volunteered believed we were stopping communism. We were going to save Vietnam from communism and stop the collapse of Southeast Asia into communism. But it was really the military industrial complex flexing its muscles making incredible amounts of money. For military contractors and arms makers, it was a heyday.”
An estimated 57,000 soldiers lost their lives on the battlefield in Vietnam. Fifty years after the war, it is clear there have been even more soldiers who died from suicides, substance abuse, exposure to Agent Orange, and other causes related to their military service.
Giri said a lot of those suicides are due to the disillusionment of veterans. They believed in something and thought they were fighting for something noble.
“Then they find out they were used for nefarious reasons to benefit the military industrial complex,” Giri said.
The Vietnam War lasted 10 years. Now the war in Afghanistan has finished after 20 years. Giri said a lot of veterans who participated in that believed in what they were doing.
“They believed we were fighting for the freedom of people in Afghanistan,” Giri said. “It was a lot of lies, a lot of BS. It is glaringly obvious now how badly soldiers were duped and used. If you invested $10,000 in military industrial complex stocks 20 years ago, you would have $100,000 now. The gains made by the military industrial complex far exceeded the gains of the stock market, in general. That is what it was all about. It is straight up and easy to understand.”
Many veterans now feel their sacrifices, their loss of comrades, and the deaths of the civilians were all for nothing.
“If you were in combat, you saw a great number of civilians killed for every combatant,” Giri said. “Up to 70-90 percent of deaths were civilians. In the drone wars, they call the collateral damage to civilians ‘bug splat.’ We just had that happen in retribution for 13 Americans killed at the Afghanistan airport. The U.S. had a drone strike that killed a lot of civilians, pretty much an entire family.
“So, you have a huge number of veterans now questioning what this was all about and what they sacrificed themselves and their comrades for. This is exactly what creates veteran suicides. Basically, these soldiers have been betrayed by everything they believed in. This is devastating. Psychologically, it just pulls the legs out from under you. For the whole population, there is the same disillusionment if you paid attention. The real truth is devastating.”
The Veterans Administration has programs to help veterans who are suffering from PTSD and thoughts about suicide. But that is not a good fit for all vets. Giri operates an alternative called the Soldiers Heart of the Ozarks to help veterans find a way out of their suffering.
“Add disillusionment and betrayal to soldiers who have perhaps hurt or killed people, and it becomes too much for a lot of people,” Giri said. “I’ve been trained in a way I’ve employed for myself and found meaning and purpose in my experience, and turned that betrayal into a gift.”
In World War I, what is now known as PTSD was called battle fatigue. In World War II, it was called shell shock. In the Civil War, it was called soldiers’ heart. Giri feels that is more descriptive than PTSD. It means your heart is broken; you have a wound at the core of your being.
The mission of Soldiers Heart of the Ozarks is to work groups in three- to four-day workshops to facilitate the healing of PTSD and other problems for veterans affected by war. A secondary focus is to help reintegrate veterans back into society and establish an effective aftercare program.
Giri has great faith in the process because he has experienced how it works. The model was developed Dr. Edward Tick, author of the definitive work on PTSD called War and the Soul. It was based on a Native American model. When Tick retired, he asked Giri to carry the work on.
“The way the Native Americans dealt with this is that there is a way to prepare for war and a way to bring them back from war,” Giri said. “In a workshop in a few days, you can get a breakthrough that allows you to understand and process what happened. You can put meaning into your experience. Betrayal can become a gift that you use to turn your life around. That is what worked for me. You can construct your own reality out of the truth that exists instead of the lies you have been fed. It gives you great power and healing. This is what we do in our workshops.”
Soldiers Heart of the Ozarks can be reached soldiersheartoftheozarks.org or by calling Giri at (479) 409-5270. Giri had stopped doing workshops for a while because of Covid, but He is restarting them with precautions, like small groups outdoors with social distancing, and masks.
The Veterans Crisis Line for veterans their families operated by VA is (800) 273-8255.