THE WOUNDS YOU CANNOT SEE
We have long since learned that those who serve us in uniform sometimes come home with emotional wounds we can’t see.
We accept that their service, protecting us, can take a toll on them. It can create internal stresses and pains that hurt them emotionally, increasing the price they pay on our behalf.
We understand that about the military.
I wonder why we don't understand it about the police.
I wonder why we stand ready to offer acceptance and support to the one, but criticism and punishment to the other.
If we can see that the soldier who turns to drink or drugs is in crisis and in need of help, why can't we see the same for the police officer? Why does emotional pain in one uniform get you help, but emotional pain in another uniform get you fired?
This is not to make excuses for those who do wrong, but rather to suggest that we are blind to a scourge that afflicts those who have defended us here at home, just as it afflicts those who have defended us overseas.
If seeing your buddy gunned down in Helmand Province can wound your heart and psyche, couldn't seeing your buddy gunned down on Hudson Avenue do the same? If it hurts a warrior's heart to see forlorn children in a war zone, wouldn't it probably hurt an officer's heart to see forlorn children on a domestic violence call?
How many times do you have to knock on a mother's door to tell her that her child is dead, or string the police tape around the place he died, before we realize that you're not made of steel?
The brave men and women of our military face year-long deployments of uncertainty, not truly knowing if they will make it home alive. The brave men and women of our law enforcement spend 20 years or more facing that same uncertainty. If every rooftop can be an ambush, so can every traffic stop.
If a Marine worries about his wife and kids, so does a deputy.
Yet we have parades for the one and protests against the other.
If a servicemember is depressed or uncertain or pained, we pick up on it, we respond to it, we offer comfort and counsel, support and treatment. If a police officer is depressed or uncertain or pained, we don't notice. And if we do, it is in a critical way.
We hold the cop to a high standard that attacks and punishes conduct that in anyone else we would recognize as a symptom or a call for help. When the marriages break up or the drinking gets excessive, when the temper snaps or the light goes out of the eyes, a soldier gets treatment and a cop gets written up.
We get it right with soldiers, we get it wrong with cops.
And brave and good men and women suffer as a result. They, and their families.
We know how many veterans commit suicide every day, we have no idea how many police officers do.
And yet they do.
And it is seen as shameful. Even in the loss of life that can come from the accumulated emotional trauma of patrolling our streets, we whisper in criticism.
When PTSD takes a GI to the bottle or divorce court, or to a withdrawn aloofness, we understand. When PTSD takes a cop to the same places, we don't.
And we must change. We must stick to our high standards, but we must have compassion and understanding. We must expect that emotional trauma leaves an emotional wound, and we must recognize that an "officer down" may be the officer who goes home at the end of the shift with a whirlwind raging in his mind.
We ask them to face hell, which is right. But we ask them to face it alone, which is wrong.
We finally came to understand the emotional price of protecting us overseas. Now we must come to understand the emotional price of protecting us at home.
And we must be there for members of law enforcement, just as we are there for members of the military.
We have a moral obligation to care for those who are wounded in our service, even if those wounds are psychological, even if that service is on the streets of America.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2017