Thank You For Your Service takes an uncompromising look at the deep psychological toll war takes on so many soldiers, and how the military often fails to provide proper mental health care upon their return home. Interviews with vets, including a Santa Barbara resident, and big-name advocates for better treatment, like Robert Gates, Sebastian Junger, and General David Petraeus, reveal where we have failed as a country and what we can do solve the growing crisis.
What inspired you to make this documentary?
In April 2012, Executive Producer Gerald Sprayregen sent me a New York Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof entitled “A Veteran’s Death, A Nation’s Shame” with a note saying: “We should make a film about this.” The theme of Kristof’s piece — that more people have died from suicide than in combat in our two most recent wars — had a profound and galvanizing effect on me, evoking many important themes from my own life. My father was a veteran; my best friend committed suicide when we were 21.
Gerald’s one demand for funding this film was that it not only generate awareness around the problems, but that it also address solutions. Over the next three years, we travelled to over 50 cities and interviewed more than 200 people including high-ranking officers, behavioral health specialists, concerned citizens, and the service people who raised their hands to fight.
What decision-makers do you hope watch the film?
What kind of impact do you want it to make? We wish to show the film to influencers across the country —congresspersons, senators, the White House, retired high-ranking military officers, media representatives, behavioral health specialists, and so on in order to advocate for some of the potential solutions shown in the doc.
Of all the solutions suggested in the film, which do you think are the most realistic? I think the creation of a Behavioral Health Corps would be a direct fix to a systemic flaw in the military. As with all such change, it would no doubt meet with resistance, (probably mostly by psychiatrists who fancy their position in the Medical Corps). But the system as-is is not working and I do believe we are at a point where we could gather the will as a nation to make the change.
Why do you think our country is seemingly content to ignore this issue at the moment?
Our military compromises less than 1 percent of the population. Out of sight, out of mind.
Sebastian Junger had a good point about the male ethos getting in the way of swallowing one’s pride and asking for help. How do we help soldiers get past that? I believe that mandatory counseling from Day One of their service is the best way to reduce the stigma. As Vietnam veteran & author Karl Marlantes says in the film, “The general goes. The private goes.”
If so much of this issue links to the country’s overall shortage of psychiatrists, how do we begin to chip away at that shortfall?
The military needs to work with universities to recruit more students into behavioral health. Hospitals and insurance companies need to step up as well and address this shortage.
Instead of, or in addition to, thanking vets for their service, what else should citizens do or say to express their gratitude and help these men and women? Citizens need to listen. A thank you can be much appreciated but it is not enough. They should engage in conversation. As citizens, they should also stay informed. They have a duty to read about and understand the conflicts we are fighting as a country (that their tax dollars are paying for) and on the costs of those conflicts (psychological and otherwise).
With another ground war looming in Syria, what are your thoughts on whether the government will begin to take this issue seriously?
I think the government does take it seriously, but I’m not sure that means they will make it priority enough to take action. No action happens without public pressure.
Was it difficult to get some of these guys to talk openly about their experiences and struggles?
It was less difficult that I had imagined it would be when I started the process. Many are happy to talk if you are actually interested in listening.