I’ve been a guest on some of the world’s top podcasts, radio and television programs. I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at Fortune 200 company events. I’m a national spokesman for a veteran’s charity. People line up for book signings to ask about my book and to talk about life in Special Forces. Most every person I meet thanks me for my service.
But in the eyes of the state of California, I am a menace to society and undeserving of the same rights as the person next to me in line.
This is what I refer to as the “combat veteran’s paradox,” or the current state of affairs where, on one hand, most of society dons yellow ribbons and shows their undying support for the combat veterans of the past decade, those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, who’ve suffered the tolls of war and lost too many friends in the process.
And on the other hand, the state believes those same skills and bravery that were so handy in combat zones fighting for that same state’s flag become a danger to society, causing them to strive to take away our arms, benefit of the doubt, and, yes, many times even children.
While the 22-a-day statistic is staggering and gaining much-needed attention in social media and the greater landscape of society, there is another military-related statistic that has fallen off the public radar: the military divorce rate and subsequent broken families.
It seems I find stories every day in the media, through conversations with friends or in social media of another veteran having his life torn in two by an angry spouse with full support of the state.
There was once a time when I believed every story had a logical explanation, that there must be some integral key factor that these men were leaving out to paint themselves as the victim in the story.
And then I experienced it firsthand.
I cannot explain to you how maddening it is that every friend or legal authority I tell my story to – whether it be a lawyer, police officer, or court official – responds with the same answer: “they [the court system] can’t just do that.”
In a logical world they would be correct, as I would have been in my assumptions before walking the line myself. But in today’s world, the same government whose flag we soldiers run to pick up, fight for and protect has no issues with throwing us to the wind when we need their help the most, claiming the same skills they needed when it was time for war leave us incapable of being a good father, owning weapons, or receiving the benefit of the doubt.
As a man who grew up in the South and spent quite a bit of time in military towns, I can attest to the masses of young girls who just “love a man in uniform.”
And when the nation is in a time of peace, it works out well for both parties.
The soldier is only gone for short-term training assignments, and may come home with some anger or resentment towards his chain of command or the system from time to time, but that is much different than the unwavering wounds of war.
But in a time of war, things are much different. It takes a truly strong woman to love a veteran – more than loving the man in uniform, more than just singing along with empowering songs or watching empowering movies, but a truly strong and amazing woman with steel in her veins.
To love a veteran is to understand that sometimes he just can’t see why your world is collapsing because they didn’t have a shirt in your color. He doesn’t understand your crying because you hurt yourself and a tiny speck of blood is momentarily on your little finger. And your power struggles at work with your arch nemesis in the next cubicle? Not on his radar of things to get worked up over.
A veteran who has walked into certain death time and time again, watched multiple friends die traumatically in their early twenties and toiled in the high desert heat while wearing a full uniform with well over a hundred pounds of gear and rucksack will have a difficult time showing empathy for your first world problems.
And in the days where everyone is a special snowflake, reality tv teaches young girls that if Kim Kardashian can be a star for nothing so can they, and filing for (and getting) a divorce is not only easier than getting married but almost just as common, these strong women quickly change the “till death do us part” portion of the marital contract to “till it gets a little tough.”
And in the eyes of the state, it’s always the veteran’s fault. While the rules state that a restraining order is a serious move (and does quite a bit of damage to one’s reputation, record and any security clearance they may have held), it is quick these days to levy one against a veteran with zero evidence, history of violence, or police record.
There are many documented cases (mine as well), where an angry spouse will perjure herself in court, contradict herself repeatedly and give no clear evidence of need, but the court will rush to file a restraining order and take the children away from a loving veteran father in favor of a proven liar because she’s angry and spiteful.
Why? Because the father is a combat veteran, and as he loves his children more than anything the state allows an angry spouse to use them as weapons against him.
And there seems to be little attempt for the court to curb this disturbing trend. Much like trial lawyers can be disbarred for frivolous lawsuits but rarely are, it seems the court system has turned a blind eye to women abusing the system (and our nation’s veterans).
The onus to write this article was not my own experience (although it was a huge mitigating factor), but several others that were so egregious I felt I had to spread them as far and wide as possible to show the gravity and scope of this epidemic.
In a veteran divorce case in Key West, Florida in 2010 attorney David L. Manz of Marathon, Florida implied that all military veterans were high risks for spousal abuse and domestic violence by virtue of their military training, which aggressively teaches them to kill and destroy.
This was not only kept on record in that case but seems to be echoed time and time again since in divorce courts around the country involving veterans, where the “innocent until proven guilty” attitude required in other court cases is thrown out of the window.
Another case in Pasadena, California involved a soldier who was deployed for a year to a combat zone. While he was deployed, his wife filed for divorce and left with their children. When he returned and petitioned for custody rights, the Pasadena Judge deemed him an unfit parent due to the year he had spent away from his kids.
It didn’t matter that it was an involuntary deployment that would have landed him in jail as a deserter if he refused; again, in the eyes of the State, the combat veteran has no rights.
In another case, a spouse filed for divorce from her disabled veteran husband because caring for him was too much of a nuisance. As a parting gift, the judge awarded her half of his disability income. You read that right – she didn’t want to help with his disability anymore, but more than gladly took the money for it.
Unfortunately, I could fill pages upon pages with examples. Last night I read another message from a fellow former Green Beret on a secret group we belong to speaking of the courts giving him the same treatment, only allowing him to see his kids in supervised visits which their mother has chosen rather frequently not to even bring the kids to.
And her punishment for contempt of court? Zero.
It’s amazing with treatment like this that anyone even wonders why we’re seeing 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
A characteristic that I’ve often written and spoken about is that while we veterans may have a gruff and solid exterior, inside each of us has more love for our families than I’ve ever seen in the civilian sector – so much that we would rush to sacrifice our lives in order to protect that which we hold so dear.
It is said that “nobody loves a warrior until the enemy is at the gate.” Our nation’s veterans have been keeping that enemy at bay for well over a decade now, but when they come home to find the only people in their lives they are supposed to trust, rely and depend on have become the enemy, how can they choose to go on?
And the fact that our nation would support the soldier by wearing a ribbon but also support a court system or angry ex-spouse that would treat our veterans like this?
That, my friends, is the combat veteran’s paradox.
Robert Patrick Lewis is a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A), an award-winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war” and the host of “The Green Beret MBA” on iTunes.