I recently took Donny, my husband, to the Veteran’s Hospital closest to our home. Donny’s hip had been bothering him and we thought it should be checked out. Not long after we arrived and signed in to the VA emergency room, we knew we were there for something much bigger than a sore hip. God sent us there!
We sat in a room filled with veterans with a TV on, but nobody could hear it because our vets were talking about where they were stationed and in what war or mission they had served. It was interesting just listening, which is what Donny and I did for a while.
Veterans came and went and we learned that some had been there for five hours before we arrived. The longest wait was that of an older vet who sat for ten hours before being seen by a doctor. Most of the vets in the ER didn’t have anyone with them to get them something to eat or drink, so when I went out to buy a few snacks for Donny, I bought extra for those vets who might want or need water or a snack. They were so appreciative, and hearing “thank you, ma’am” over and over again brought a smile to my face and more than covered any cost.
A young man soon came in and sat down in a chair next to Donny and me. It was apparent that he was in distress, not physically, but mentally and emotionally. He could not have been over 25 years old. Hunkered down in his own world, he talked to himself and was agitated because he had seen so much violence and had lost so many friends.
No doubt he was hurting and probably taking several substances (legal or not) to try to cope with his emotions and memories from the “conflict.” Radical Islamic terrorism killed this young man’s friends and forever changed his life. Seeing his friends slaughtered, that young veteran is lost and doesn’t fit in anymore. His battle is not over, and may never be over, as he relives horrible memories and endures terrible nightmares. Living a “normal” life is no longer an option for him.
But this young man soon stopped talking to himself and opened up to Donny, actually giving Donny a smile. Because my husband was in the Army for 29 years as a Chaplain, he has a lot of experience talking to soldiers and understanding PTSD and the pain they go through everyday. Donny and I both know this wounded warrior has a long road ahead of him and we pray that the VA takes care of him and treats him like the hero he is.
After seven hours of waiting in the emergency room, Donny and I were alone with another young man who was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. His pants sagged too low and I thought, “pull your pants up.” He was holding his stomach and I could tell he was in pain. After going in to see a doctor, he came back to the waiting room. I noticed that his jeans were now a little lower and his boxer shorts were showing and he was still bent over holding his stomach. I sat there in the waiting room judging him and wondered why he thought it was okay to walk around like that. I thought “if he were one of my sons, I wouldn’t care how old he is, I would tell him to pull his pants up”.
Donny was finally discharged from the emergency room at the same time the young vet with the too low pants (and a few missing teeth) was discharged. The three of us walked to the elevator together. The vet wanted to continue talking with Donny and learn more about how Donny had gone through airborne school at the age of 43. The vet was so impressed with Donny because airborne school is not easy to get through at any age, much less 43. The vet then told us that he went through airborne school at the age of 19, and then through Ranger school. Donny said, “Well, you were one of the few, because not many people make it through Ranger school.”
When we got into the elevator, the vet said, “Yep, I was one of the crazy ones who made it through.” Then he lifted his shirt and showed us two bullet wounds in his side and lower abdomen. “I suffer daily with the constant pain and the doctors can’t seem to fix it.”
I wanted to cry right then and there, but instead I spoke to my own heart, “Thank you for your service; thank you for raising your hand and volunteering to go into harm’s way.” Now in his 20’s, that wounded warrior suffers everyday because of his sacrifice. And to think that I judged him because he couldn’t pull his pants up around his waist because it hurt too much to do so. There he was, a real American Hero, and I had no idea!
That humbling moment made me realize that while our nation continues to fight the battle against evil, all of us are fighting some kind of battle. We should never judge others based on how they dress, talk, or act. Since we don’t know what anyone has been through, we need to love everyone, just like Jesus loves us.
Next time you see a veteran, don’t hesitate to say, “Thank you.” Those brave men and women have sacrificed so much for our freedom. I pray that our next president will respect our military and help our soldiers learn how to have a normal life when they return home from service – as “normal” as they can.
We depend on the LORD alone to save us. Only he can help us, protecting us like a shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we are trusting in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone. (Psalm 33:20-22 NLT)