We Need More Than Memorials this Memorial Day
Our Veterans need our help
When I was a child, I used to look forward to Memorial Day Weekend from the time I returned to school after Christmas vacation. It was the yearly benchmark announcing the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. It meant I was one step closer to regattas, swim meets and tennis matches.
Like so many of our nation's holidays, we've lost sight of what Memorial Day is actually about. It isn't meant to be known as the unofficial start of summer. It is meant to honor our troops and the innumerable sacrifices they've made in the name of protecting and fighting for the United States of America.
Truth be told, I would settle to a return to memorializing our troops. Israel flashes the name of each fallen soldier on television during their Memorial Day celebration. I can't remember the last time I saw anyone doing anything to honor our troops on Memorial Day.
More than memorializing, however, our country needs to take a long and hard look at the way we treat our veterans. This is an issue that has been talked about for years. Every now and then there seems to be an uptick in the outrage over how our men and women in uniform are treated both while they're actively serving and after they've been discharged. It never seems to be enough for any changes to be made to the system.
Are there public programs geared solely towards assisting our men and women in uniform? Yes, there are. Do these programs make any measurable or quantifiable difference in the lives of our veterans? Yes, they do. The qualifier is that the programs help veterans who meet arbitrarily created prerequisites. For example, in order to qualify for health benefits, you need to have an address to put down on the application. This does nothing whatsoever to help the thousands of homeless veterans in our country.
Many cite pacifism as a reason to avoid getting involved in this cause. Pacifism is a noble belief and an ideal the world as a whole should strive towards. What it is not, however, is a reason to avoid supporting our veterans. If you're a pacifist you don't have to fight in our wars—a luxury that would not be afforded to you if we still lived in the era of the draft. You should be thankful that there are enough volunteers to serve in the armed forces to make the draft unnecessary. The men and women who serve are protecting each and every one of us—regardless of whether or not you agree with every military campaign the USA becomes embroiled in. It is their choice to serve, but it is not their choice to fight no. This is a critical distinction. There are very few people in the country who have a say in where the military goes (the main person, of course, being the President of the United States). You don't have to like where the military is sent or the causes they are sent to fight for (or against) but refusing to support our men and women in uniform is not going to do change anything and you're naive if you think it will.
Mental health is another big concern for our nation's veterans. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (more widely known as PTSD) is rampant among veterans. Men and women return from war zones and are unable to connect with their friends and family members. They can't find the words to articulate what they've witnessed or what they endured overseas. The military, for their part, is still old fashioned (to put it kindly) when it comes to any kind of mental illness. They see it as a personal weakness and a defect that renders the man or woman suffering from it incapable of service. If you are diagnosed with PTSD or any other form of mental illness while still on active duty, you will most likely be discharged immediately. If you're lucky it will be an honorable discharge. More often than not the signs and symptoms of PTSD are ignored. When this happens, the result is often far more catastrophic and tragic than it would have been if it was caught early on. Sufferers of PTSD often lash out, sometimes violently, when they are subjected to one of their triggers (which can be something as inoccuous as a car backfiring because it sounds like a gunshot or an explosion). If an active duty member or a veteran lashes out violently because of PTSD they are criminally punished for their actions. This is both ineffective and morally wrong when you consider it may have been avoided if the sufferer had been provided with treatment.
This issue deserves far more attention than it can be given in one article. We live in a country where serving in the military is not mandatory. I for one am increibly grateful for this because I would be hopeless fighting a war. I recognize that in myself. That doesn't mean I don't need to concern myself with how veterans are treated, however. If anything, I am MORE invested in helping our veterans procure the services they so richly deserve because I am not obligated to join the military. The men and women who serve our country do so voluntarily. They put everything on the line for our safety: yours and mine. The least they deserve when they return from active duty is help securing a job (if they choose to leave the service), healthcare and a home. These are basic necessities that we all need to survive. Our men and women in uniform are doing a job that not everyone wants to do. Remembering their service once or twice a year is not enough. We need to actively care for them each and every day.
This Memorial Day Weekend, it is my fervent hope that you and your loved ones will take a moment to not only remember our fallen heros, but to do something to help our living veterans and active duty service men and women. Contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project or volunteer your time at the local VA hospital. However you decide to do it, celebrate the contribution these men and women have made to our country. What better way to start the summer season than by commemorating the very people who are the reason we have the last Monday in May off every year