Veteran addresses post-military mental health issues

Veterans Day, while a day of celebration, also serves as a day of reflection of the internal war veterans face after their military careers.

A crowd of over 1,000 people gathered at the Kitsap Fairgrounds Nov. 11 to thank the generations of veterans living in Kitsap County for their service. A great number of veterans in attendance served in more-recent warfare in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, but others who served time in the Korean and Vietnam wars attended as well. One 97-year-old man served in World War II.

The celebration is for veterans nationwide, but County Commissioner Ed Wolfe said there is a certain pride for the approximately 35,000 veterans living in Kitsap.

“Kitsap County veterans continue serving their nation after leaving active duty in many different roles,” he said. “By doing so, they continue an American service that, at the most basic level, is caring for each other.”

However, it is only veterans that truly understand the care they need after facing the horrors of war.

The man who spoke on that powerful message was retired Navy CMDCM Kevin ”Rusty” Staub, who served 30 years on five different submarines. He also served in Japan, helping that country recover from its disastrous earthquake and tsunami.

Staub opened his speech by saying his message would not be about glorious battles or cool sea stories, but “it’s about the battle we are all fighting, and we are losing 22 of us every single day.”

Staub retired from his military career in 2014 and lives as a married Christian, father and grandfather.

He also, like many other veterans, lives with depression and PTSD. It’s those mental conditions that Staub said make life feel like dancing to bad music. “You know you’re supposed to flow from step to step along with the ‘cool’ music, but you can’t,” he said. “You can’t fix the music, so you have to find other ways to deal.”

The question for veterans becomes who to talk to about these obstacles that can lead to self-harm and suicidal thoughts and actions. Staub said that he talks to his bride, who is also a veteran, and he has talked to doctors, too. He said, in the end, talking to a fellow veteran is what he prefers due to the shared connection of military service and that he does not feel judged for his feelings.

“What we have as veterans is special, and talking to a normal human is kind of weird,” he said. “They just don’t get us.”

It’s this sense of community that Staub said all veterans should take part in to address life after service. One way he pointed out was looking at how veterans were dressed at the ceremony. Many wore decorated uniforms displaying the awards they accumulated in service and their continued dedication to the country. Others, while wearing normal dress, donned caps signifying their time and area of service in the military. It’s those symbols that he said help veterans find and share their experiences more comfortably with one another.

“It’s not to let the folks at Home Depot know that I earned a discount. It’s so we can find each other in a crowd. It’s our secret handshake of sorts,” he said.

Staub challenged the veterans in attendance to use those symbols to their advantage, taking the time to ask their “new-found veteran friend” how they are doing today. It’s that simple conversation and question between a pair of veterans that can make all the difference in the world, he added.

The memorial table is set for the prisoners of war and those missing in action.

The memorial table is set for the prisoners of war and those missing in action.