Thank You for Your Service, written by David Finkel, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.
This is a book about the After-War … what happens to soldiers suffering from the long-term debilitating after-effects of service in Iraq and Afghanistan and other war zones. Mostly it’s Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome characterized in the worst cases by suicidal depression and anxiety. The book focuses on suicide prevention through the rehabilitation efforts of treatment centers like the Warrior Transition Battalion Complex operating out of Fort Riley, Kansas; Haven Behavioral War Heroes Hospital in Pueblo, Colorado; Pathway Home, based on the California Veterans Home in Yountville, California; and the Pentagon’s “high-risk behavior” suicide prevention awareness initiatives under the hands-on direction of the U.S. Army vice chief of staff.
But it’s the veterans who really tell the story. In this regard, they are served well by the author, who, it will be noted, is a Pulitzer Prize winner (2006) and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” (2012). That said, it should also be noted that the author has an incredible ear for dialogue and descriptive nuance. He inhabits the world of his conflicted veterans, and their families, and deploys their words, their memories, their struggles, and, regrettably, their suffering to illustrate the trauma and pain of coping day to day.
Many of those deeply traumatized seek self-understanding through reliving their experiences. They’re not necessarily looking for a cure—that’s unreachable for many of them, but they are, to use the phrase of one Pathway Home graduate—looking for a better place. We can only hope they will find it someday. As one eulogist put it at a funeral for a young veteran, complete with a display of his boots, helmet and rifle, “What is there to say at this point except thank you for your service.”