These meals offered in thanks for the service that Veterans have provided our nation, and we as a group do appreciate this, but some just don’t get it. A good friend (and well-meaning I am sure) commented on Facebook about a fellow Veteran, and I were eating at a local place, “…enjoying your free meal?” For the last several days, I’ve thought of that and in the interests of attempting to explain how I feel about the comment (and the offer of such meals annually). For a meal (or anything) to be “…free…” it has to have been, “…given or available without charge…” So, are these meals truly “…free..?”
While it is true that Veterans do not have to pay cash for what we eat at local restaurants, there is a charge that we do pay over and over and will continue to do so while we live. Those who have “…seen the elephant…” (a phrase referring to, “…gaining experience at a significant cost..,” initially referring to those men who fought in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War of the mid-1800’s. In the years that followed, this phrase fell out of use but has recently once again gained some popularity. This ‘elephant,’ in whatever form it may take, is something experienced that once ‘seen’ is not easily or ever forgotten.
Years later something unrelated or totally innocuous can bring to mind the horror of what was once experienced, the result being what is now called Post Traumatic Stress. In my case, something that happened 45 years ago came rushing back while I was attending a seminar on PTS. After listening to one speaker and while going to get some coffee during a break, a friend asked me what I thought of the speaker. Suddenly I was back in that nightmare and could do little but break down and cry at the memory.
Since that day I have been refused care at the VA (having ‘only’ been a Veteran of submarines and everyone knows they never saw combat), but through the kindness of several friends have begun Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, which has made a difference. I have battled depression and suicidal ideations at times and tried different pharmacological treatments, mostly without effect. I joke about how my hands shake, often suggesting to others who notice that I would be perfect working for an establishment making milkshakes. With my hand tremors, I have difficulty eating or drinking at times and despite medication there is little, if any, improvement.
So, getting back to my “…free…” meal; Veterans have earned the thanks of the nation we protected. Many of our friends never came home; some returned scarred physically while some, like me, retain wounds that seemingly remain invisible but no less real.
Yes, I did not ‘pay’ for that meal on Veteran’s Day, but I will continue to pay every day. When you see a Veteran receiving such consideration, please don’t envy us our ‘free’ meal. Trust me, we paid for it!