Throughout history, veterans have written about their military experiences, which run the gamut from humorous to very bleak. Many have used writing to help in the recovery process as they negotiate their brokenness and navigate through their invisible wounds of war. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of helping to host and organize writing workshops for past or present military members and their families in Kansas City, MO.
The workshop are designed to give veterans and their families the tools and confidence to develop and tell their own stories. They're offered at no charge to past or present military members and their families thanks to the generosity of sponsors. In the past, we’ve received grants from the Missouri Humanities Council and the Kansas Humanities Council.
Workshop participants explored approaches to writing including personal stories, poetry, fiction and memoir. We also focused on self-editing and self-publishing. Each session was facilitated by leading professional writers and educators in KC. Two key-note speakers inspired and informed on the art and skill of writing. Manuscript review opportunities were provided to allow vets to work one-on-one with professional writers.
Our goals of the workshop were to provide a safe place and time for veterans to learn about writing and storytelling; to stimulate an interest in and a commitment to writing stories beyond the workshop; to match the various levels of veterans with appropriate sessions; and to offer resources and services for veterans post workshop, including writers groups and manuscript review.
The need to help our military members heal from their experiences continues to grow. Suicide rates for military personnel occur at an alarming rate in the United States. Every day 20 vets take their lives. The risk of suicide for a vet is 21 percent higher than it is for the general population, however, 70 percent of the vets committing suicide are not in the VA system. In 2014, suicide rates for female vets grew 85 percent, compared to 40 percent for civilian women.
Half of the post-9/11 combat veterans describe their transition to civilian life as “very difficult.” Veterans of the U.S. military have disproportionately high rates of domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, substance abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress and incarceration. After departure from service, suicide rates climb to three times the general population. Veterans who have killed in war are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than the overall veteran population. By the time veterans reach the crises of suicide, incarceration or homelessness, most will have carried inner anguish and despair for months or even years, as their suffering takes a toll on their families and communities.
But we can make a difference with writing. Workshop attendees have told us this weekend program enabled them to write of their military experiences, and helped them begin the process of negotiating their brokenness. “The value of this workshop is immeasurable. I think it’s a great start to help me tell my patriotic story of service – however painful it may be,” stated by an attendee in a feedback form.
In the past 20 years, our nation has created a new generation of potential veteran suicide victims, those who served post-9/11. It is the duty of all communities to help those potential victims successfully reintegrate into society and to prevent the suffering that our Vietnam Veterans had to endure.
My planning committee is willing to share its learnings to help other organizations begin their own community writing programs for veterans and their family members. Contact us by clicking on the button to the right.