Lani Hankins talks to us about the struggles that service members face after leaving the military and coping with the loss of their friends.
Links & Resources
- Kruse Corner on Facebook
- Kruse Corner on Instagram
- President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS)
Scott DeLuzio: 00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes. As soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit Drive On Podcasts.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:44 Everybody today, my guest is Lani Hankins. Lani is the host of the Kruse Corner Podcast and blog where she discusses stories of interest to the military. Lani, welcome to the show. Why don't you tell us a little about yourself and who you are, your military background and things like that?
Lani Hankins: 01:04 Well, first thanks for having me. My name is Lonnie Hankins, and I joined the Army when I was 22. I was in college working on an Art degree and people were telling me that wouldn't go anywhere. And so, I started second guessing myself and I got down to that last semester and I had family that had done military time. So, I figured I'll give it a try. And so, I did the four-year contract with the Army active duty, ended up switching over to the Reserves for the last two years. So, six total served out of Fort Riley, Kansas. I did one deployment with the 1st Squadron 4th Cavalry Regiment to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and then was out of Fort Myers, Florida for the Reserve.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:53 And so now you're the host of the Kruse Corner podcast and your mission with that podcast and what you're doing over there probably started off similarly to how I started this podcast and why I started it. Could you tell us a little bit about the motivation behind the Kruse Corner and where the idea came from to do what you're doing now?
Lani Hankins: 02:22 So it originally started off just as a blog. It was something that I started because I was in my final year working on my Master's degree. And you had to have a place to post your final research paper and mine was on the VA. So, I figured I'll just post it to my own blog, a cheat thing. I didn't want to have to ask anyone to put it on their stuff. And I didn't want to just have this one random research paper by itself on a website. So, I padded it with some writing I had been doing and some of my friends saw it and they're just like, you have to keep it going. And so, the name came from my buddy Cruz, who I served with at the Quarter Cav and he'd committed suicide my last month
Lani Hankins: 03:08 I was inactive duty. And so, I wanted to do something as a homage to him little bit. I had been struggling myself and writing was just my therapy. And then people started telling me they didn't like to read. So it turned into the podcast because people basically wanted me to read forums. So the podcast started off with me still doing the blog, but I was reading the articles basically for people. So, it was like the audio Kindle version. But I didn't realize until I went to school with civilians that people did not understand the Veteran community and what was happening. And I got frustrated with it and with the suicide epidemic going on. How do you not know that 22 Veterans kill themselves a day? How is it possible that people don’t know this stuff? And I just needed a platform. And so that's really where it started was I need to start talking about it and find people that will talk about it.
Scott DeLuzio: 04:12 Yeah, absolutely. My assessment was probably spot on there because that's pretty much where I started with this podcast. Our platoon was in Afghanistan in 2010 and we didn't lose anybody over overseas, but we started losing people after we came home. And that to me just was unacceptable to think about that. There's stuff being done; obviously people know that there's a problem with suicide amongst the military and Veterans in terms of people maybe in the VA or other military circles, but the general public, like you said, doesn't really understand that. There might be a better understanding now than there was maybe 10 years ago, but it's still a problem and whatever is being done is just not enough in my opinion anyways.
Scott DeLuzio: 05:10 That's where this podcast came from and it sounds like that's where you got started off with yours is to spread awareness. And that's really the name of the game to me is to make more people aware of it and know that this is an actual problem, and there are people doing things. So, I don't want to make it sound like whatever the VA's doing or other organizations are doing. Is it not enough? Or is it, they're not actually trying anything that's working. I don't want to make it sound like that. But I do feel like there's more that needs to be done.
Lani Hankins: 05:51 I do feel like there are a lot of organizations in the VA trying, but Veterans are stubborn and there's resources that people won't use and there's options to talk about things. And from having a podcast where I have it open to guests, to come tell your story, and it's hard to find people. And that was another part of the frustration was you have to talk about it, so people know because if you don't, these civilians can't understand your experience if they don't know what that experience is. And if they're basing it off of the movie Platoon or Blackhawk Down, it's not going to get anyone anywhere because then they think it's all combat. And it's not always that.
Scott DeLuzio: 06:31 And it's not always combat related issues that cause some of the mental health problems that we experience in the military; there are people who have moral injuries where they're in a position where they're doing things that they never really thought that they'd have to do. I've shared on this podcast before time where I had to make a decision whether or not to shoot a child and even though I didn't end up shooting the child, it still is something that I carry around with me, it's never a situation I ever thought I'd have to be in. And you carry that with you and people just don't really understand that these are things that the military, first responders, law enforcement, have to carry around with them.
Scott DeLuzio: 07:28 And it's hard. So, I applaud you for what you're doing in terms of trying to raise awareness for this type of stuff, and one of the other things that I've noticed recently going on…this was just actually within the last couple of days, we're recording now on June 19th, but sometime during this last week, and just a disclaimer here, I don't get into politics on the show. I have my political beliefs just like I'm sure everyone else does. I don't want to alienate anyone who might be listening to the show who might hear a political view that they don't agree with and so I try to keep politics out of it, but with that said I think we can probably all get behind the plan that was recently unveiled by president Trump called the President's Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End National Tragedy of Suicide, which is a mouthful. But I think they're trying to fit that into an acronym…Prevents, for short. It's basically a plan to raise awareness about mental health connect to suicide prevention, resources, things like that to coordinate research into suicide. So, have you heard about this plan at all? Or what are your thoughts about it?
Lani Hankins: 08:47 I've heard about it. I didn't really read into it a whole lot, because again, for me, just from doing things like the podcast, I realized that there are things that are already there. There's a lot that exists and people aren't utilizing it. And so, I feel like you can keep adding programs, you can keep adding initiatives and all these things, you can make the acronym as long as you want, but Veterans can be a tough group. And a lot of people feel burned by the VA. And so, this idea of, do you care? Yeah. Does anyone even want to listen? And then you still have to get through that mentality of you can't talk about it. And so you break that idea that we can't get out and talk about it and be open. Then I really don't feel like there's any program that's going to work, I've used all of them. I've seen all kinds of stuff and there's still stuff I don't want to talk about it. I spent six years having it crammed down my throat. Don't talk about it or you're weak. And so, it was always this conflict of, if I get help, I’m showing that I'm not a soldier anymore. And so, I think you have to get past that hump of showing people it's okay. Mental illness...It's okay to not be okay. You can talk.
Scott DeLuzio: 10:01 Exactly. And what do you think is something that we could be doing a better job at to get people to that point where they are more open about it? I think we're in a better position now than we were 20 years ago, in terms of these conversations, but what do you think people can do to try to help?
Lani Hankins: 10:23 I'm always telling people the biggest thing is within the Veteran community because we understand each other the most, I know the VA does, it's hardest to get through to everybody, but there's a lot of us and there's a lot of overcrowding issues. And I have always told people if we could take some of that burden off the VA and start helping each other, we have to be able to talk to each other sometimes. And I've seen even just through social media, that there's a lot of us that won't let each other talk. And again, that mentality of, you're policing each other up in the wrong way and someone's showing weakness. Don't do that. Like you're ruining the uniform and the creeds and the oaths and all these things we talk about. We have to show each other that we have each other's back still. I think that's the biggest thing is just showing that just because we took the uniform off, we're still here for each other. We're still battle buddies. I know that's cheesy but we are battle buddies for life, but there's a lot of truth to the bond that we have. It doesn't break as soon as you walk away. So I feel like we have to help each other.
Scott DeLuzio: 11:31 Yeah. That's a good point. Are we actually looking out for each other, are we calling each other and checking in to see how each other are doing, even something as simple as sending a text message every once in a while, or just following up with people. And even though you might've gotten out years ago, and I'm just as guilty as the next person about this, of not necessarily following up with all the people that I knew at one point that I served with. But you know, we all could probably do a better job at reaching out to these people who, unfortunately tend to fall through the cracks in some of the institutions of VA and other organizations that are out there trying to help.
Scott DeLuzio: 12:20 It might just fall through the cracks. So, they stopped going to their counseling sessions or whatever the case may be. Following up with people and just reaching out policing each other trying to get this under control. I think we can do it. I think Veterans as a group are pretty intelligent and we probably can configure this out and we can get this done, given the right resources. But I think we just need to
Scott DeLuzio: 12:53 make a more focused effort on it. A lot of times people getting out of the military and one of their struggles is that they don't have a sense of purpose. Oh, there you go. There's a sense of purpose right there, reach out to people, but as a society generally speaking, not necessarily the military community but as a society, people just don't understand the issues that we have in the military. What do you think we could do to raise awareness to help people understand where we're coming from?
Lani Hankins: 13:37 I mean, I think it's already happening. A lot of people, like you said, it's changed in the last 10 years. There's a lot more understanding around stuff and people are opening up more. I think the civilian side of it is that they have to listen and let go of the Hollywood idea of what service members are and let us tell our story. It's a big thing. Veteran's day would be a perfect time to let Veterans come out and talk about stuff. If we could create a full community effort in hearing the story of the actual average Veteran, instead of Hollywood's idea of it, I think it would make people feel like they could actually help. I think a lot of my friends, they don't know where to help. And a lot of them have this idea that I'm messed up because of combat or something. So, we went off to Afghanistan, of course you're messed up, but it's like I'm not messed up from that but other things happen. I'm a human at the end of the day, regular things can happen to me. I feel like it's breaking those stereotypes, it's breaking that stigma. And that's across society, we have stigma attached to mental health. So, we have to get past that. I think we're working on it.
Scott DeLuzio: 14:52 I think so too, I think we are doing a better job where people are opening up and talking more about mental health. It's definitely more acceptable to talk about mental health and to be getting treatment as opposed to even just, like we said, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, it was a taboo thing. And if someone was going to mental health treatment for something, whatever the case may be it was like, “Oh my gosh, is that person crazy?” That was the mindset just a few years ago and a lot has changed since then, which is a good thing, moving in the right direction. My wife and I started watching the Sopranos not too long ago.
Scott DeLuzio: 15:45 And so that started in the late nineties or so. And one of the first episodes was when Tony Soprano is going into a mental health professional’s office and he's talking and everybody's like, but you can't tell anyone about this because I don't want anyone to think I'm crazy or anything like that. That is just a complete 180 from where we are now. I think maybe not exactly a 180 where we still need to work to get there, but it's definitely a lot better than it was. You talked a little bit about the name of your show and where that came from. Would you mind sharing a little information about who this was, who the show is named after, and talk a little bit about that. And maybe some of the struggles that went on there.
Lani Hankins: 16:43 The podcast and the blog were named after Mark Cruz, he was a Private that I served with it, a Quarter Calv at Fort Riley almost the entire four years I was there. He was one of our mechanics. I was a supply clerk and dispatch person. So I was in the PLL office. And so, I was around the mechanics a lot, and he was just someone that was one of my buddies. We had our little clinic and I think the biggest time I realized that he was actually struggling was when we were in Afghanistan, because we were on guard duty a lot together and those shifts are about eight hours of your day. And it's just the two of you. So, you have a lot of time to learn about each other and it's stuff you wouldn't learn in small talk because small talk gets old out there.
Lani Hankins: 17:32 And I just learned that he was suppressing a lot of stuff, but again, it was that idea of, it's the male soldier, can't talk about it, it's harder for them. And so, I think as a female soldier, I experienced a lot more people opening up to me because I was seen as a safe spot to do that. I wasn't going to judge anybody. And I think we're seeing a little bit more sensitive and motherly, I guess. He was pretty young. Like I said, I went in at 22 by the time I was in Afghanistan, I was like 23, 24. And I think he came in probably around 18, 19, so he was young and just always came to me. And so when I found out he committed suicide, there was a part of me that wasn't surprised, but I felt like I let him down.
Lani Hankins: 18:24 It was my battle buddy. And I think the biggest thing was that because he had already left, he'd been out at least six months before he committed suicide. And I hadn't really kept up with him when he got out. And that's why buddy checks became a big thing to me, because it was like, what if I had called or what if I had visited or something and made him feel like he was still connected to us and he didn't feel like he was by himself. And then there was also that idea of, did I say what I could, is there anything I could have changed? And it took me five years probably to come to the conclusion that I couldn't have stopped it, but it was pretty clear when I look back at Afghanistan, hindsight's always 20/20, you look back and you can tell it was somebody that was on that course.
Lani Hankins: 19:16 And I think his mind was made up long before it happened. But there was that idea of you can't save everybody, but dammit, you're going to try, it's like the whole thing with the combat doc. You're going to try to always do it. Even if it's against regulation, it's against just the way the world works, you're going to try. And so, he was a big inspiration because I lost a lot of people to suicide military and civilian and his hit the hardest. So it was like, this is how I can repay you, because I felt like I let you down in life; in death, I won't let you be forgotten and I won't let anyone else be forgotten that goes that route and don’t let anybody talk bad about it.
Lani Hankins: 20:00 There was still that idea of, “well, that's weak, you quit” is what a lot of people look at us and I didn't want that to be what people that went that route were remembered as. I wanted the focus to be on the hurt and the invisible wounds and stuff. So that's why the podcast and the blog became such a big thing. It really was a mission. It became my purpose because I didn't have one. When I left, I was floating around. I didn't know what to do. And so, for me it was like, you keep looking after battle buddies. It was a way to carry over what I knew how to do from the Army into my civilian life.
Scott DeLuzio: 20:39 It's great that you're taking the time to continue this on and to talk about these things and help people out with the struggles that they're going through. But part of the reason why I asked the question that I did about where the name came from and everything is exactly what you just said. I feel like these people had a story, they had a name, they had a story, they were human. They had their own issues that they were going through. And we should tell these stories and not treat them as quitters or whatever the case may be, that some people might call it and treat them as humans the way that they should be, and have some compassion for the struggles that they're going through. And hopefully, we can learn from this type of thing. And I think it's great that you're using this platform to share these stories. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the stories that you tell on the podcast and through the website.
Lani Hankins: 22:03 So when I first started writing, it was mostly covering things like PTSD and suicidal ideation, that transition point. I knew a lot of people were struggling with the post side to deployment to try to help people understand where your anxieties can come from, because dealing with the Cav unit, like you hear it all the time, you have no reason to feel bad, but there's other stuff that goes on. So, the stories became like telling it from the side to show that anybody can be affected by a number of things we had to get away from the combat story. And PTSD became a big story for me because I had it from domestic violence. And there was the side of people believing that I was trying to say that I had something from combat. I took a lot of slack from Veterans that were like, “well, nothing ever happened to you, so you can't talk about PTSD.” And I was like, “well, a lot can happen to you.” So, I had to change that idea, but then there was also this idea of the people saying, “well, you were a soldier, so how did you end up in domestic violence? I mean, couldn't, you have fix that?” And so, then it was that idea of, okay, now obviously we have some skewed ideas.
Scott DeLuzio: 23:20 Because clearly, you're a robot and you can now just turn this on and turn it off and go fight against whatever.
Lani Hankins: 23:29 Indestructible. So, nothing can happen, in real life things don't happen. And so, I was trying to humanize the soldier because that's all I knew. I couldn't do it for any other branch, but I knew what the stereotypical soldier was. And I wanted to humanize that a little bit and change
Lani Hankins: 23:47 the dialogue we were having. And then once I did that, because the idea was, I'm going to tell my side to walk the walk, to show you can talk about it. And then I started bringing guests on and letting other people tell their story to get other branches to get the man and the woman's side of it to get the different MOSs just to have a more well-rounded spectrum of trauma and experience and stuff for my audience to hear, because I didn't want Veterans just listening to these stories, I want civilians too. I felt like you had to bridge that communication gap. And so really the stories ranged from all over because I didn't want people to feel limited. It was just this idea of you can come here and just talk and have conversation and it's just you and me and then other people listen later on. And so I've had stories of military sexual trauma, domestic violence, the idea of being a spouse while you're whoever is deployed, or you left kids at home or what it's like to be pregnant in the military and how you catch stuff for that. The stories range all over the place.
Scott DeLuzio: 24:59 I'm sure they do. And it sounds like there's a lot to be peeled back here and to actually talk about and
Scott DeLuzio: 25:12 expose to the general public, all of these things that go on that most people don't really understand that their narrow view of the military is Black Hawk down and Saving Private Ryan. And that's about the extent of it. That's definitely not the full picture. And you do have people who are parents who get deployed. I was a new parent when I was deployed and we have a two-month-old son when I was first in Afghanistan. Even though there was no combat involved the day one that I stepped foot into Afghanistan, it's still weird on me because now I have a wife at home with a small child and she's new at that too.
Scott DeLuzio: 26:01 It's not like she's had any kids before either. And now I feel helpless because I can't help her out, trying to figure this thing out. And it's hard, there's a lot of things that go into it. And like you said before, we're all human and we have human emotions and we get affected by things just the same way that anyone else, we're not those robots of soldiers that sometimes people think we are.
Lani Hankins: 26:36 Well then when they say like, where do we help? And it's like, I can't even tell you because there's so many different stories out there. It's like, do you pinpoint where the suicide stemming from? It can come from so many different things. So, the idea was I can only tell my story so much and then you have to get other people to tell because it can be so many things and everybody's affected differently. Everybody has different ideas of trauma and what affected them and how they're healing from it or not. And so, I can't pinpoint, so the idea was I got to get as many people from wherever I can find them. So, we got a well-rounded idea of the type of stuff that's wrong
Scott DeLuzio: 27:19 I'm trying to do the same thing, interviewing people like yourself, that have a story. Other people have their stories and I’m trying to provide a well-rounded view of what actually occurs in the military community and the Veteran community so that people know what's going on and maybe someone out there can figure something out to help some of these people who might be in some of these different situations that we talk about. It has been it has been a real pleasure speaking with you about all of this. I know we probably just scratched the surface with some of the stuff that we talked about.
Scott DeLuzio: 28:12 I think we probably could go down a rabbit hole and dig into a lot of this stuff pretty deep, but it has been a pleasure speaking with you, and I'm glad that you came onto the show to share your stories, to share the story of some of the people that you've interviewed on your show and I really do applaud you for the work that you're doing over on your podcast and your site. I really think it's a great thing that you're doing. Where can people go to find out more about your podcast and everything that you're up to?
Lani Hankins: 28:49 So we're on Facebook, it's just facebook.com/krusecorner, on Instagram we’re KRUSE Corner. And then our website is just Krusecorner.com. And really you can find us on any of the main platforms, Spotify, anchor, iTunes, Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, all that good stuff.
Scott DeLuzio: 29:15 So after you're done listening to this episode, stop what you're doing, go over to the search box and type in KRUSE corner and find that podcast, subscribe to it, check it out. I have listened to a few episodes already. It's got a lot of good stuff that I've heard. So, thank you again for sharing that with us and for doing everything that you're doing, I really do appreciate it. Thank you.
Scott DeLuzio: 29:52 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcast.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at DriveOnPodcast.