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My Turn: Some sad days for Alaska vets

Posted: April 27, 2013 - 11:08pm

Watching all the news from Boston, and once again I feel so grateful for the emergency responders running toward the danger spots — a sacred calling.

I appreciate that Alaska has a rich history of honoring our heroes, military workers and Good Samaritans. On Saturday, April 13, at the Capitol why did three of our Alaska Representatives turn down an opportunity to thank Alaska military vets and their families for working in harms way?

The House State Affairs voted “No” on including the widows/widowers of LGBT vets from qualifying for a property tax exemption like the heterosexual vet spouses can receive through the passage of Senator Kevin Meyer’s SB 73. I love this state but sadly there is an ongoing backwardness toward the LGBT community that pierces my heart almost daily.

Our nation’s military, gay and straight, simply want to serve their country. At the committee hearing, an Anchorage lesbian Air Force vet of 23 years called in and testified. She shared stories of her helicopter rescuing wounded soldiers off the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan while her female spouse and 2 small boys worried about her and wondered if she would ever return home safely to Alaska.

Hearing this, the committee faced an opportunity for positive, respectful action toward the State’s LGBT community. Given that many Alaskan widows or widowers commonly face the heartbreak of having to leave the family home, unable to keep up on the mortgage, a Yes vote seemed fair and reasonable. This amendment was nixed by 3 No votes from the GOP. Sad day for Alaskans.

As Jeffrey Mittman testified from Anchorage, “There is no reason not to pass this. It’s about family. It’s a simple change. It does not conflict with DOMA.” And I get tears writing this. Tears for the death and wounding in Boston. Tears for kind, brave people helping others. And tears for my LGBT community. As a lesbian I have witnessed the national conversation in the 60s, 70s and 80s when some Americans wondered out loud about whether gay people should even exist and should they be rounded up and isolated. In the 90s and 2000s, the American dialogue trended upward: should we have the same civil rights as heterosexual citizens?

When Rep. Lora Reinbold framed her “No” vote with “You can’t redefine marriage. That would be like redefining water,” she indicated that no one except legally married straight Alaskans should get this exemption. Her water. My tears. If all these waters are basic and unchangeable and sacred, I vote “Yes” for water’s ability to carry love and blessings for all God’s children, not just certain ones.

Recently my spouse attended an all day workshop for medical providers and social workers about the latest effective health care guidance for returning vets. The presenters explained that if a war zone vet has PTSD, the whole family has PTSD. Especially the children. They are very injured by a parent’s untreated PTSD. Recovery comes through providing services for everyone. That makes sense. The pain and dark times that come with PTSD bleed onto close-by hearts and minds. The family will share the darkness even if they don’t know all the details. An M.D., Dr. Frank Ochberg, who treats combat vets, says in a poem, “My wounds are not for you to see/Although I wish you knew/Without the grief that hollows me/What holds me back from you.”*

Every family member can be hollowed by the PTSD. My spouse then asked the presenter if the families of LGBT vets could receive these PTSD services. “Oh, no. We only offer services to benefited families. We encourage all to apply for benefits.” Then an attendee at the training began a loud slow clapping that may not have intended to mock. Sadly “We are a nation at war with ourselves,” as Terry Tempest Williams says, and we in the LGBT community continue to fight for our relationships and our lives.

*Gift From Within quoted in Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD by Christal Presley, PhD, Health Communications, INC, Deerfield Beach, Florida

Lin Davis is a 20-year Juneau resident.

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