A month where many people are focusing on the upcoming holiday season. But before Thanksgiving, there is another holiday. Sunday, November 11th, is Veterans Day. It is a day that gets confused with Memorial Day all the time. A day when people will make social-media posts and thank those who served. A day when there will be parades and celebrations to honor our veterans. A day for many people that means that they won’t have to go to work the next day since the United States will observe the day this year on Monday the 12th with a National Holiday.
Veterans Day is supposed to be a day set aside honor the men and women who have served in the United States military. A day to honor their patriotism, their love of country, and their willingness to sacrifice and serve. But that’s just one day. What about our veterans the other 364 days of the year? What about those who are struggling with PTSD from combat or sexual assault? What about those veterans?
While people may associate Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with veterans and the military, most people probably don’t know that “approximately 14% to 20% of veterans who supported conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan experienced PTSD.” Most people also don’t know that “32.4% of female veterans report having experienced military sexual trauma.” For these veterans, PTSD can add another layer to the sexual trauma or be a result of their sexual trauma. And these are the numbers of the veterans who do report their sexual trauma and their PTSD. There are many veterans who stay silent or who have been silenced.
That is where the new documentary We Are Not Done comes in. Once again, HBO presents a documentary that tells the stories of veterans that most people don’t hear. This documentary comes only a few years after their Oscar award-winning documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. We Are Not Done Yet is directed by Sareen Hairabedian and produced by Jeffrey Wright and David Holbrooke and co-produced by Patti Bonnet.
We Are Not Done is the story of the Veteran’s Poetry Project started by Vainuupo “A.V.” Avegalio who is known as “A.V.” As a combat veteran, A.V. found he was struggling with PTSD and was having a difficult time coping. As an artist, he began looking for a way to channel his pain and processing and to help his fellow veterans to have a voice. He teamed up with poet Seema Reza and the Community Building Art Works, which is an arts organization that “encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care and socialization among a military population struggling with emotional and physical injuries.”
The film follows veterans and active-duty military personnel: Vainuupo “A.V.” Avegalio, Joe Merritt, Anne Barlieb, Scott Cormack, April Harris, Belena Marquez, Robert “Bonny” Plagmann, Timothy “T.J.” Ryan, Valerie Stemac, and Jennifer “Jen” Vaughn as they begin to process their stories, their trauma, their victories, and their defeats using live performance, poetry, and storytelling. Because as Veteran and artist Joe Merritt says in the film, “It’s hard to cope and do normal human being stuff of you’re wearing your trauma on your sleeve.”
Seasoned actor Jeffrey Wright joined the group to help bring the project to the stage and while his professional knowledge helped inform the performance, he really wanted to make sure that these men and women were able to tell their stories the way they wanted to.
We Are Not Done Yet is not only an important documentary about these men and women, but an incredibly moving one as well. In a short amount of time, you begin to see the complexities of their lives, which have been impacted in both positive and negative ways by their military experiences.
The film is also visually stunning and features the artwork of Vainuupo A.V. Avegalio, Joe Merritt, and Valerie Stemac.
We Are Not Done Yet premieres on Thursday, November 8th on HBO. To learn more about the film We Are Not Done and the veterans, please visit the film’s website. To follow the art of Joe Merritt, Valerie Stemac, and A.V., you may find them on Instagram and Etsy at: @joemerrittart – ValerieGrace Design on Etsy @vais_art