Everybody loves veterans. But it often isn’t easy to be a veteran.
Americans have undergone a timely and proper national change of heart about them after we reflected on how Vietnam War veterans were wrongly blamed for the unpopular war in which they served.
Ask most people today, and they’ll rightfully say veterans deserve respect and tribute. They were willing to go and fight and sacrifice to preserve our freedom. It’s second nature for most of us upon meeting veterans to extend a hand and tell them of our gratitude for their service.
We love veterans and they deserve the honor. That handshake, those words of appreciation, certainly are a beautiful thing for a veteran to hear. But so many of these men and women have needs that gratitude alone won’t solve.
Far too many problems — physical, mental, emotional, financial, educational and more — afflict far too many of them. No one deserves these afflictions, but at the head of the list of undeserving should be veterans.
We know of men and women who have experienced unprecedented repeated tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and can only imagine the toll that must have taken, and how those afflictions have affected them upon their return home.
Many have trouble finding work and too many live in poverty. Others face issues dealing with a service-related disability, notably post-traumatic stress disorder. Rejoining what you and I might call normal living is difficult for others, who sometimes experience difficulty handling personal relationships, money, or just making decisions. Some have sadly turned to substance abuse. Even sadder, a few have turned to crime or suicide.
CNN reported Sept. 21 of a February study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs which found 22 veterans commit suicide each day, or one every 65 minutes.
Many ceremonies this weekend honor veterans, and we need more of them. Our gratitude must be visible and constant. Our appreciation for our liberties and their willingness to be in harm’s way to protect should be more than evident, but always present.
But after these important ceremonies we should remember one very important fact: Monday isn’t Memorial Day. That’s the last Monday in May when we properly, solemnly honor the ultimate sacrifice of those in the nation’s armed service, that of their lives, for their country and for freedom.
We can, we should, comfort the families and friends of those who were lost.
In May, we pay the highest respects to the honored dead. But Monday is Veterans Day, and on the 11th day of November, we are called upon to honor the living. While the living deserve honor, they also deserve help to return them to the lives they deserve to live with the liberty they served to safeguard.
Many responsible charities offer assistance to veterans apart from their VA benefits. Among the most touching charitable acts are those “honor flights” paid for through donations to provide World War II veterans — now in their 80s and 90s — with what may well be their only visit to the memorial in Washington, D.C., to those who fought and died in that conflict.
Veterans Day is on Nov. 11, not the something-th Monday of a month, for a reason. As we learned in school, at the 11th hour (11 a.m.) on the 11th day of the 11th month, the carnage of World War I finally came to an end in 1918. The date is a constant reminder of the horror of war and the price paid by those — living and dead — who fight in wars.
This year Veterans Day happens to fall on a Monday, so many with the holiday off from work will be tempted to make a three-day weekend of it. While it would be more than fitting to take time this weekend to reflect on the service of our nation’s veterans, don’t stop there. Look into a worthy charity that assists vets and their families, and support it in whatever way you can.
The next time you greet a veteran, offering that handshake will feel that much better, because a society that values freedom as its highest blessing, values those who sacrificed in the name of freedom just as highly.
• Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Mark J. Scarp’s opinions here on Sundays. Watch his video commentaries at eastvalleytribune.com. Reach him at email@example.com.