Thursday, October 22, 2015

John Baker - Veterans’ Voices: A New Approach to Veterans’ Challenges

John Baker is a partner in the Baker Williams Law Firm located in Maplewood, MN. John represents Veterans and service members in the criminal justice system and with a variety of legal issues that are related to their military service, including Veterans’ preference and military law. John chaired the initiative to start Veterans Courts in Minnesota. Minnesota Lawyer named John as an Attorney of the Year in 2010 for this work. In addition, John is active at the legislature in writing legislation to benefit Minnesota Veterans. John is chair emeritus of the MSBA Military & Veterans Affairs Section. John retired from the United States Marine Corps after 22 years of service. He currently travels the country teaching law enforcement on how to deal with Veterans in crisis.

One of my favorite war correspondents is Sebastian Junger. During 2007-2008, he was embedded with an Army unit in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, which at that time was known as the ‘Deadliest Place on Earth.’ Junger and a photographer by the name of Tim Hetherington produced the award-winning documentary Restrepo, which was about the battles the soldiers fought in the Korengal Valley. Junger also wrote a book called War — an outstanding documentary and book.

In my work teaching law enforcement how to deal with Veterans in crisis, I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia two years ago for the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference. I had the privilege of giving a presentation to Police Chiefs from all around the country about our returning Veterans. I told them that we have our “Next Greatest Generation” of Veterans coming home from these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These young men and women have been through some of the best training in the world and have been tested on some of the toughest battlefields. Like the “Greatest Generation” that came home from World War II and built a nation, I told them this “Next Greatest Generation” is equally capable of coming home and becoming a generation of great police officers and public servants. Unfortunately I had more than one Chief come up to me after my presentation and say that they did not want to hire a Veteran because we all have PTSD and will be a liability to them. I came away from that conference more determined to help change that narrative.

Junger recently wrote an article for Vanity Fair about the challenges our Veterans face when they come home. His piece is called “How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battle Field.” Among other things, Junger talks about the growing disconnect between Veterans and society. Junger has a call to action in his article. He says that as a society we need to hear Veterans’ stories, and we need to hear that they do not all have PTSD and that they are not all broken. In other words, we need to change the narrative.

Here in Minnesota, there is an organization that has taken up that challenge. In 2013, the Minnesota Humanities Center introduced the Veterans’ Voices Award — part of its Veterans’ Voices programming — which recognizes and gives voice to those Veterans who served and have come home to continue to serve. But more importantly, this Award provides them an opportunity to share their stories and create a connection between Minnesotans and those that have served. It is helping to change that misguided narrative many people have of our returning Veterans. In amplifying the authentic voices of these Veterans, a more complete narrative emerges and creates space for the “Next Greatest Generation” to realize their greatness after coming home.

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