Andersen: A veteran making a difference | AspenTimes.com

Andersen: A veteran making a difference

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Adam McCabe, of Carbondale, speaks authoritatively about war. As a Marine sergeant, he served two tours of duty in Iraq and was awarded the Purple Heart. His searing battle experiences put him on an unusual path that led to the floor of the Colorado Senate two weeks ago.

McCabe was showered with praise by state senators who gave him a standing ovation in support of his work and vision, which have culminated into a resolution the senators unanimously passed. Senators came up to him afterward and told him about the veterans in their lives who are lost and desperately searching for purpose and meaning.

McCabe held in his arms several senators who broke down in sorrow over the struggles faced by today's veterans. McCabe is in this position because he also has put his arms around a mission that is seeking a policy shift from the Department of Defense to reintegrate veterans into the civilian world.

McCabe states the problem bluntly: Every 65 minutes a veteran takes their own life. In the U.S. today, 22 veterans are committing suicide every day. Most vets have little or no preparedness for shifting out of combat roles. They suffer soul wounds from the things that they have seen and done that violated their deepest moral precepts.

For most veterans, the promise of college, which drew many into the service, is a hollow promise. With an 88 percent failure rate at freshman year, which multiplies to 94 percent overall, says McCabe, veterans are failing at school, even when they get a paycheck to go.

College-bound veterans lack qualified listeners, he says, meaning that their college peers are unable to relate to the experiences that veterans had in war. How can men and women who have faced life and death, who have led troops into battle, relate to freshmen coming right out of high school?

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McCabe's accolades from the State Senate, and later from the House, came as a show of force for legislation he drafted seeking help for veterans on their return home. A reverse boot camp to relieve aggression as a reactive mindset is part of the vision McCabe promotes through his Purple Star Veterans and Families.

The resolution he wrote speaks with the moral authority that only soldiers like McCabe can convey:

"For every United States soldier killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, 25 military veterans commit suicide after returning home from their service. … After their military service, veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have a 75 percent higher rate of fatal motor-vehicle accidents than do civilians. This is often thought to be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Purple Star Veterans and Families is dedicated to establishing formal training to assist service members on transitioning to civilian life and strengthening the homecoming safety net for service members and veterans and, just as importantly, for the families of service members and veterans."

By urging the Department of Defense to prepare personnel for the transition to civilian life, prior to their separation from service, McCabe hopes to "reduce the incidence of suicide, accident fatalities, divorce, child abuse and neglect, alcoholism, drug addiction, incarceration and homelessness."

That's a tall order, but McCabe is up to it because of his innate determination and commitment to a moral mission. That's because McCabe cares, a vital trait that resides deep inside the hearts of most veterans who look out for their brothers and sisters. They know that reaching out can mean the difference between life and death.

Toward this goal, Adam McCabe and I have teamed up at Huts For Vets where we take combat veterans into the wilderness at the 10th Mountain Division Huts. The transitions we've seen hearten us to the promise that veterans can find reaffirmation in life, that healing happens in nature and with camaraderie at the huts.

We think that the Huts For Vets methodology could become a key component in homecoming preparedness training. The bright sunshine, clear mountain air, deep forests, high peaks and warm atmosphere of the huts provide wounded veterans the freedom to feel again by caring for one another. For many, that's where the healing begins.

Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He can be reached by email at andersen@rof.net.