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Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel

Thank You for Your Service

by David Finkel

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On its own, this is another brilliant chronicle of the true costs exacted by our recent wars. As a follow up to Finkel's incomparable The Good Soldiers, though, it was perhaps just the tiniest bit disappointing in that it only covered a few of the men and families from his first book. In any case, this is a haunting and ultimately inspiring work. ( )
  wanack | Feb 23, 2014 |
Read this book in a little over a day, and this from someone who has serious trouble concentrating on anything. Mr. Finkel writes beautifully and manages to do it in an almost neutral way not letting his personal opinions transpire, just as every journalist should and so, so few managed or even try to.

The only bad thing I can say is that he has only written two books ... ( )
  emed0s | Jan 5, 2014 |
If you've decided after reading about this book that it's too bleak, well, consider what the people in this book and others whose stories didn't make it into this book are going through. Or their wives, who married a guy, said goodbye to him as he deployed, and found that the man who came back home was someone entirely different.

Rarely in life does a book come along that has me telling everyone I know that they have to read it. I just finished Thank You For Your Service, and if you have friends or family returning from military deployment, you may find this book to be an invaluable resource. Yes, there are a number of books on PTSD out there on the market already, but trust me -- you will have never read anything like this one.

Mr. Finkel's prior book The Good Soldiers, had him embedded with men in an army battalion in Baghdad during the 2007 surge. Thank You For Your Service finds him embedded yet again, but this time here in the US, after the soldiers' deployments are finished. As the dustjacket blurb states, "He is with them in their most intimate, painful, and hopeful moments" in a period he calls the "after-war," as these men begin the process of trying to recover. The book focuses on soldiers returning with "the invisible wounds of this war, including traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety," causing emotional, mental and physical scars, often finding their outlet in spousal abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse and sometimes suicide. But it's not just the men -- the author also offers the viewpoints and voices of wives or girlfriends who try to adjust to their men being home but broken. In most cases, the women are simply not equipped to handle the changes and they often wonder what happened to the men they said goodbye to at the start of their deployment.

The Army does offer some help for their men, but it comes largely in the form of medications -- often a high-powered combination of meds to control anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. There is also the possibility of entering Warrior Transition Battalions (WTB), but just getting in is a bureaucratic nightmare. One man had to collect over 30 signatures in a given amount of time, only to find that some of the offices he had to visit were closed or manned by inadequately-prepared staff. And although these soldiers have to sign a Contract for Safety, including a promise that if they are feeling suicidal they'll let someone know, the suicide rate continues to climb. In Washington, at least one man, General Peter Chiarelli, took the suicide rate very seriously, demanding accountability for each and every self-inflicted death at regular meetings. However, his efforts were often at the mercy of senators and other high-ranking officials, whom he had to wine and dine and who sometimes had other things that were more pressing. In trying to put together "lessons learned from the cases," details revealed that it was "difficult to learn much at all." Attempts to find patterns in the suicides remained elusive, and trying to get at a cause for both suicide and PTSD was nearly impossible:

"...could the cause have something to do with the military now being an all-volunteer force, and a disproportionate percentage of those volunteering coming from backgrounds that made them predisposed to trauma?"

or more importantly,

"Could it have nothing to do with the soldier and everything to do with the type of war now being fought?"

Have we asked too much of these men? There are other treatment options but for men like Adam Schumann, the veteran whose story is central to most of this book, it would mean, as his wife notes,

"...seven weeks of no work and no pay. That's two missed house payments. Car payments, too. Electricity. Gas. Phone. Groceries."

The rehab treatment place where Schumann eventually received help was saved from closing at the last minute by an anonymous donor.

The soldiers and their families who agreed to participate in Finkel's work did so knowing that everything would be public and on the record, and this openness is what makes this book so haunting. Sometimes I had to put the book down, regroup emotionally, and then come back to it -- and when a book can do this, the author has done an excellent job. Most highly recommended -- it's a book that will stay with you long after the cover has been closed. ( )
1 vote bcquinnsmom | Dec 28, 2013 |
This is an extremely hard book to read because it documents the problems faced by several soldiers and their families following the Iraq war. Most have diagnoses of PTSD, several have attempted suicide, some have succeeded. Some perished in the war and the book documents the struggles of their families with adjustment. The symptoms of PTSD including anger, guilt, nightmares and thoughts of suicide are compounded by physical wounds for some, but the ones who do not have physical wounds seem to suffer even more. The book brings these problems to the personal level, focusing not only on the soldiers, but also their families and significant others, who try to help and understand but often are ill-equipped to deal with these problems. The Army seems to recognize the problems and is attempting to address them, but the reader is given the clear impression that they are overwhelmed and ill equipped for the task. Instead, they dispense a lot of drugs, which present problems of their own. Vice Chief of the Army Chiarelli feels that mental health and suicide prevention are not Army priorities. Their focus is the mission. He tries to learn from the suicides, but does not seem to be getting much traction. A particularly poignant story involves his attempt to put on a party with a suicide theme to bring the issue to the attention of Washington power brokers. It had to be called off because of poor attendance. Thereafter he retired. Meanwhile there do not seem to be many happy endings for the soldiers and their families. Instead we are left with the image of veterans in their 60s and 70s building pyramids of beer empties every day at Adam Schumann’s rehab program in California. I wish more of these stories had better outcomes, but unfortunately they do not. Even the apparent success of Adam’s program left this reader with uneasy feelings about his future. ( )
1 vote ozzer | Nov 11, 2013 |
Showing 4 of 4
This is a heartbreaking book powered by the candor with which these veterans and their families have told their stories, the intimate access they have given Mr. Finkel (an editor and writer for The Washington Post) into their daily lives, and their own eloquence in speaking about their experiences. The book leaves the reader wondering why the Veterans Affairs Department cannot provide better, more accessible care for wounded warriors. And why soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — which Mr. Finkel says studies show afflicts 20 to 30 percent of the two million Americans who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — must often wade through so much paperwork and bureaucracy to obtain meaningful treatment.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374180660, Hardcover)

From a MacArthur Fellow and the author of The Good Soldiers, a profound look at life after war

No journalist has reckoned with the psychology of war as intimately as David Finkel. In The Good Soldiers, his bestselling account from the front lines of Baghdad, Finkel shadowed the men of the 2-16 Infantry Battalion as they carried out the infamous surge, a grueling fifteen-month tour that changed all of them forever. Now Finkel has followed many of those same men as they’ve returned home and struggled to reintegrate—both into their family lives and into American society at large.
     In the ironically named Thank You for Your Service, Finkel writes with tremendous compassion not just about the soldiers but about their wives and children. Where do soldiers belong after their homecoming? Is it possible, or even reasonable, to expect them to rejoin their communities as if nothing has happened? And in moments of hardship, who are soldiers expected to turn to if they feel alienated by the world they once lived in? These are the questions Finkel faces as he revisits the brave but shaken men of the 2-16.
     More than a work of journalism, Thank You for Your Service is an act of understanding—shocking but always riveting, unflinching but deeply humane, it takes us inside the heads of those who must live the rest of their lives with the chilling realities of war.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:15:45 -0400)

"Finkel, a journalist, follows the soldiers who serve in the Iraq War as they struggle to reintegrate into American society"--

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