How many ‘walking wounded’—veterans knocked down by post-traumatic stress disorder (mental breakdowns from horrifying events) or TBI (traumatic brain injury)—are there around the country? A half million, more or less, counting the daily drip of suicides and new walk-ins … Embedded with the veterans, their families, their friends, and their counselors, Finkel lights up the lives of these struggling souls, who often compound their real problems by convincing themselves they're ‘weak’ for ‘abandoning’ their buddies and seeking treatment … If Finkel weren't such a vivid, compelling, heartrending writer, you'd never get through his agonizing weave of battles, from the bomb-strewn highways of Iraq to the psycho clinics of VA hospitals and many ruined homes in between. The grim litany of stories collected here brings to mind nothing so much as The Best Years of Our Lives on methamphetamines—with Dana Andrews putting a shotgun to his head in the B-17 scrapyard instead of landing a job. Some endings are happy, more or less, but most not.
Finkel absents himself from the narrative, immersing the reader in the quotidian life of soldiers and their families. Thank You for Your Service is elegantly reported, free of the entanglements of crusading self-aggrandizement on the one hand and, on the other, an overidentification with its subjects. Finkel refuses to pathologize soldiers, even as he concentrates on the 20 to 30 percent who have been psychologically damaged to some degree by their service in Iraq or Afghanistan … This is not — nor should it be — an easy book. But it is an essential one. Finkel refuses to gild the misery and ugliness of the last decade and the unpoetic aftermath of war with the kind of sentimentality that has so often clouded our thinking, not only about our military commitments but also about the veterans they produce.
Finkel, a reporter with The Washington Post, attends to what he calls the ‘after war.’ His concern is with the soldiers who return from the war zone bearing wounds — and with the loved ones on whom those wounds also become imprinted. Above all, he is concerned with wounds that may not be fully visible: the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and related conditions that affect roughly a half-million younger veterans. Make that a half-million and counting...To judge from Finkel’s description, the assistance rendered has been erratic, bureaucratic and ineffective, with soldiers not so much treated as processed … The hackneyed phrase providing the title for Finkel’s fine book exquisitely captures the hypocrisy pervading that relationship. The travails of those whose suffering he recounts give us a glimpse of the costs incurred and of who pays them.