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Remembering Our Veterans With Honor and Compassion On Veterans Day

Updated on October 4, 2013

By the Numbers

There are currently 2.7 million military personnel serving in the United States armed forces in 150 countries. In addition, there are approximately 22 million veterans among us, meaning that about 1% of our population consists of active or inactive military.

You undoubtedly know them. They are your next door neighbors, your poker buddies, your husbands and your daughters. They are your car mechanic, your favorite actor, your labor negotiator and your dentist.

They are the homeless, the disabled, the disenchanted and the unemployed. They are the future suicide, the anger management case study, the abused wife and the imprisoned. They are an active and productive part of the American scene, and they are the forgotten, the faceless, the humorless and the dying.

My dad, a WWII veteran.
My dad, a WWII veteran. | Source

Liberty and Justice for All

While the average American citizen sits and watches television, U.S. soldiers are serving the country. Across this nation this coming weekend, people will be barbecuing, visiting with friends, going to movies and taking vacation, all while men and women march into harm’s way in the name of liberty.

While millions say the pledge of allegiance, millions are defending that pledge. While others talk about justice, soldiers are making sure that justice prevails.

So it has been for over two-hundred years, and so it will be into the future. The price of freedom is often not measured in dollars in cents, but rather in blood, trauma, and yes, death, and no segment of the American culture pays a higher price than the American military.

The cost they pay is steep, and they keep paying the piper long after their service to this country has ended. Problems they face are many:

· Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

· Traumatic Brain Injury

· Substance Abuse

· Homelessness/housing Concerns

· Disability and Health/Illness Issues

· Unemployment/Under Employment

· Poverty

· Educational Deficit

· Money Management Struggles

· Financial Literacy

· Social Anxiety

· Mental Health Issues

· Family Issues

· Anger Management Challenges

· Criminal Justice Issue

· Inadequate Government Programs

Facing Reality

76% of veterans have faced, during their time of duty, a life-threatening or traumatic event. They have either been shot at, been in a threatening position, or seen a friend and comrade injured or killed due to violence.

When they leave the military, many are ill-prepared for civilian life. They were trained to be soldiers; they have spent three, four, or more years in high-stress situations, and the return to a normal existence in suburbia is not often easy. Away from loved ones for so long, they find it hard to cope in relationships, and social skills, once natural to them, have been buried deeply as they fulfilled their military requirements.

The Department of Defense estimates that 15% of veterans suffer from PTSD, but experts believe that percentage to be much higher.

On any given day there are 300,000 homeless veterans in the United States. A higher percentage of veterans suffer from alcohol and drug abuse than any other social classification, and the chance of suicide is higher for veterans than any other group in this country.

Sadly, they have been forgotten, and those not forgotten find unfathomable delays in receiving benefits and care that they deserve and need.

How does this happen in the United States?

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Four veterans of WWII in this family picture
Four veterans of WWII in this family picture

Personal Thoughts

I have never been in the military, but it really is not necessary when speaking out against injustice, and make no mistake about it, we are discussing an injustice with regards to veteran issues.

My father was in the army during World War II, and served in five campaigns in Italy. He would never talk to me about the violence that he saw, but those in our family who knew him before and after the War, say he came back a changed man, a man who laughed less and angered more quickly.

My uncle served on a destroyer during World War II; he came back early with a medical discharge, suffering what was then called shell-shock, which we now know as PTSD. During a heated sea battle he froze while manning artillery, unable to carry on his duties because of a paralyzing fear. He was haunted by that for the next forty-five years.

I had two friends serve in Vietnam; both saw three tours of service in Southeast Asia, and both, upon returning to the United States, committed suicide within six months of their return.

My purpose is not to list the horrors of war; we all can at least imagine what the horror must be like, even without experiencing it. Soldiers understand all too well what they are signing up for when they enter the military, and they willingly carry out their duty day in and day out. They understand the dangers and they understand the implied possibility that one day they may not return.

What they do not understand, and what they should never have to understand, are the problems that they face, oftentimes alone, when their time in the military is finished.

A history of Veterans Day

Let Me Be Very Clear on This

No soldier should ever be homeless!

No soldier should ever face a delay in benefits!

No soldier should ever be lacking support for mental issues

No soldier should ever be without the full support of his/her government

We, the people, cannot enjoy the blessings of liberty, paid for by the blood of our military, and then ignore the overwhelming problems that they face when they return home.

“I hate it when they say, ‘He gave his life for his country.' Nobody gives their life for anything. We steal the lives of these kids. We take it away from them. They don't die for the honor and glory of their country. We kill them.” Admiral Gene LaRocque.

We steal the lives of these kids…..I’m not sure I can add to that statement. Yes, in today’s world….hell, in any era that we care to speak about….war seems to be an integral part of global society. I wish it were not so, but the facts are hard to deny. Living in peace is an illusion and has been since this country was founded. The military is needed for as long as we have enemies, which will basically be forever.

So yes, kids die! It is expected….it is part of the war equation….but what is not part of that equation, what should never be a part of the equation, is for veterans to return home and not receive the care that they deserve.

When one veteran dies homeless that is one too many.

When one veteran commits suicide because of combat-related issues, that is one too many.

When one veteran cannot find work, cannot find aid, and cannot find relief from suffering, that is one too many.

I have utmost respect for our veterans
I have utmost respect for our veterans

The Bottom Line

Who shall we blame? Are you into the blame game? Fine, blame the government. They have known about these issues for decades, and the fact that the issues still exist speaks volumes about the government concern.

Blame the populace, those fine men and women who bask in the trapping of freedom, paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of the military. It would be a rare citizen indeed who was not aware of these problems, and yet we allow our government to ignore them.

I have a better idea, however, than playing the blame game. Why don’t we do something about this problem? Why don’t we demand that the government step up and provide for our defenders of freedom, rather than use the issue as a political football every four years during elections? If we are to believe that we are the power of this government, then perhaps we should begin exercising our power.

Rather than trotting out a wounded veteran at the Democratic and Republican Conventions, all in an effort to win votes, why don’t we actually get that veteran the care he/she needs and deserves?

I have heard it said that we are only as strong as our line of defense. I would like to alter that by saying we are only as strong as our compassion for that line of defense.

Twenty-two million veterans who defended us are now in need of three-hundred million citizens to defend them. Don’t you suppose it’s about time we did so?

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


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