Veterans’ Treatment Court
Kathy Platoni, Psy.D.
COL (RET), US Army
COL, Ohio Military Reserves/ SDF
Today’s Veterans’ Treatment Court graduates represent the
very best of what America has to offer. This is due to the unequalled
commitment of the likes of Judge Dennis Adkins and your mentors, who have
walked the walk of the unsung hero along with each of you and provided you the
fork in the road that allowed you to triumph once again. What you have overcome
to arrive here today seals that deal. Success should never be measured by
status or position, but by what hurdles, obstacles, roadblocks, and struggles
of enormous proportions one has overcome to get where they got. According to
Disraeli, there simply is no greater education than hardship……and you have
mastered that lesson better than just about everyone. Under duress and times of
toil and trouble, true and genuine character is often revealed. There are
those genuinely destined to strive in the face of adversity, who are adept at
spinning gold out of rags; and you have persisted and persevered in these
endeavors. True survivorship is borne of the struggle, the toil and labor of
adapting to and overcoming the most tortuous of circumstances that life has to
offer. From utter despondency, comes the resilience to overcome the
insurmountable, to gain strength in the face of tremendous sorrow and unceasing
despair. For those of us who have defied pain of immeasurable proportions to
endure unspeakable torment and where there is no chance of locating the off
switch to misery, we are obliged to unearth the message that enormous good may
be cultivated from the unbearable. Out of this struggle from the darkness and
desolation that threaten to consume us with stagnation, there are riches and
enlightenment to be found, where a transformed spirit is permitted to flourish.
The most adverse of life circumstances can be the most exceptional teachers
(Brookfield, 2005). When exposed to searing flame, “clay re-emerges as the
finest of porcelain china” (Krauss, 1989). You looked misfortune square in the
eye and stepped past.
The unseen wounds of war are a plague upon the soul. They
are sometimes so much more heartbreaking than injuries that are unmistakable
and readily noticed, because no one knows the pain and agony carried inside
like a rucksack full of rocks that sear our souls and shatter our hearts and
minds into thousands of pieces that will never come back together the same.
These are the injuries that are stigmatizing and that leave us isolated and
alienated from the society we left behind. There is simply no good yardstick to
measure the psychological wounds of war. According to the Department of
Veterans Affairs, 640,537 (or roughly 23.7 of post-9/11 deployers) have been
diagnosed with some form of mental health issue. More than 322,000 suffer from
a TBI (Woodruff, 2015). The truth is that these are probably very low estimates
and even more likely that a tremendous number of war veterans have never been
diagnosed with any disorders at all, let alone treated for them. The great
truth is that if you stuff your stuff inside, it will come back to haunt you,
eat away at you from the inside out. The trick is to eat it before it eats you.
That is precisely what makes you tough enough to push through, press on, adapt
and overcome, and come out of this no longer a victim, but a victor.
It was Rabbi Krauss (1989) who recounted the parable of
the two woodchoppers, who had chopped down a tree that was more than 100 years
old. As they studied the growth rings as a matter of curiosity to determine
the age of the tree, the younger of the two men noticed that there were five
narrow rings among many wider ones. He concluded that a five year drought had
produced very little growth in this tree. The older and far wiser man,
however, came to a considerably different conclusion. It was his contention
that five years of drought were actually, the most significant in the history
of this tree. Forced to send its roots deeper into the ground to draw water
and minerals from the earth, necessary for survival, its root system was
fortified, permitting more rapid growth and the reaching of majestic heights
with the passing of the seasons of drought. It is under times of duress and
anguish that growth potential to overcome the seemingly inconceivable is fueled
and that infinite resources can be tapped (Krauss, 1989). It is within all of
us that the need, the desire for life to have meaning and direction and
purpose, the “WHYS” of suffering of immense proportions, that gives rise to the
“HOWS” of one’s existence and where the will for survival is born and
aimlessness, overcome. This cannot help but draw upon a degree of hardiness
and resilience that may eclipse all other life experiences. Commit to untold
challenges passionately. Draw and cherish unparalleled joys from immersion in
the struggle to extract life from barren lands that have may have caused
planetary existence as we know it, to run dry. And in the big scheme of things,
be sure to follow your heart, but don’t forget to take your brain with you. Be
daring enough to do the seemingly impossible. Overcoming seemingly
unattainable odds equals far more than thriving. Now is the time to soar. Be
motivated by hurdles and obstacles, but never allow your struggles to identify
who you are and who you can become. Do not allow your scars to bring any degree
of shame to you. They only represent the pain and anguish you have endured,
only to have the sheer guts and determination to have discovered the pathway to
healing and recovery. This is resilience, pure and simple. If you give up, the
ache and agony will never subside. Until you have been cracked or broken, you
will never come to appreciate just how tough you are and the genuine stuff of
which you are made. It is the most difficult of times that teach us the most
priceless of all lessons.
We return from war with immeasurable burdens, having trudged
in boots that most will never have the courage to wear. You have witnessed the
catastrophic; horrors and losses and tragedies of indescribable proportions so that
99 percent of the American populace will never have to. You are among that
elite group of exceptional individuals who willingly placed their signatures on
that dotted line that states, “America, I will die for you”. And though we
learned that unequalled lesson that no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman or
will ever be left behind, too many of us have been thrown off a cliff and
forgotten when the uniform came off, forced to face yet another battlefield on
the home front. Faltering is not failing. And regardless, there is still an
enormous debt of gratitude owed to each of you. And know that you are no longer
alone in your endeavor to fly right, march forward.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I represent the best of what America
has to offer.
I would gladly stand up with any one of you, anytime,
anywhere, in defense of these great United States, of our way of life and the
cause of freedom. You bring tremendous pride and honor to yourselves and to the
Dayton community by your unequalled accomplishments. It matters so much less
that you derailed, than what you have overcome to stand here today. Never
forget that all gave some, some gave all, and some gave up, but there is none
of that going on here today.