In 2008, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were still raging, I left my private practice for a psychotherapist job at the VA. I was looking for the sense of purpose and camaraderie I enjoyed when I worked in nonprofits earlier in my career. Getting to know veterans and working with colleagues who were smart, supportive, and committed to the VA’s mission exceeded my highest hopes for my career change. In the end, the VA’s toxic culture and mandate to deliver short-term, cookbook therapies for PTSD exceeded my worst fears.
Listening to Stories of War is a memoir about providing therapy in a VA mental health clinic. Readers will listen in as veterans tell their stories about the loss, guilt, and moral injuries wars inflict on the men and women who serve. Combat veterans know that nonmilitary people are seldom prepared to hear the truth about war. Without enough empathy, courage and emotional resilience, stories about war risk creating more alienation than connection. I am writing with this in mind.
The purpose of the case studies in this book is to provide information about healing, not to induce shock and awe or diversions into political debates. The goal is to demonstrate how trauma-focused therapy works, and how to support veterans and their families without being intrusive or judgmental.
My goal in writing Listening to Stories of War is to be a Citizen Therapist. I hope the information in this book helps veterans and their loved ones get the kind of therapy that works best for them. I also hope this book will raise awareness about the human cost of war, the importance of holding politicians accountable for US military interventions, and the VA accountable for providing the services veterans need to transition and thrive in their post-military lives. This includes creating a work environment that attracts and retains the best and the kindest staff who are committed to the VA’s mission.
Service members and their families make sacrifices to serve their country. Thanking them for their service includes making sure the VA lives up to its motto:
“To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those ‘who shall have borne the battle’ and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”