All of our current service members have chosen to be there, standing between us and our foes. Increasing numbers of veterans volunteered for their tours of duty. They signed up to protect and defend their country and the Constitution. I believe their choices deserve our honor and deepest respect. Because their service comes at a price.
We still have a lot of Boomer veterans, and significant numbers who served in the Korean War, or (like my 95-year-old father) in World War II. But the USA has had an all-volunteer force since early 1973.
I remember hearing the news that the draft had been ended. I felt relieved, after years of seeing my male classmates and friends conscripted for the Vietnam War. Though early results were worrisome, most observers now agree our professional armed forces are more effective than when we relied on draftees in earlier times.
Enduring challenges of military service
Military service comes at a price. It changes a person. It usually begins when the person is coming of age. This makes it a powerful lens through which the person views the rest of his or her life.
Long-term studies identify both negative and positive outcomes. There are many positive outcomes, such as higher levels of fitness, organizational skills, teamwork competence, and more.
But service in time of war is dangerous and difficult. In some cases it inflicts crippling trauma or enduring health issues. And we’ve had continual war for long enough in recent years that some serving now in Afghanistan or elsewhere weren’t even born yet on that infamous 9/11.
Among the worst outcomes are higher suicide rates among veterans than the general population and a persistent pattern of homeless veterans.
I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that “homeless” and “veteran” are two words that should never go together, and that losing 17 veterans to suicide each day while the VA underspends by millions of its budget for helping them is unconscionable.
Acknowledging that service comes at a price
For a significant number it’s on the same order as the phrase “thoughts and prayers,” when offered as a cheap substitute for action.
How do we move beyond “thank you for your service” (however well-meant or deeply felt)? Can we express our gratitude in more practical ways? Dr. Michael B. Brennan of Psychology Today, who is himself a veteran, offers three suggestions.
Dr. Brennan’s three suggestions
First, go ahead and say “Thank you.” Many veterans still appreciate it, as does Dr. Brennan. On Veterans Day a few years ago, I posted a list similar to his, entitled “Three creative ways to thank a veteran.” I continue to stand by what I said there.
Second, get involved locally with initiatives designed to help and support veterans. Advocate. Interact with veterans at local VFW or American Legion posts. Or work with other credible local nonprofits.
Here in Kansas City we have the nationally-recognized Veterans Community Project. But everywhere has (or should have!) something. And there’s nothing that says you really do care, better than face-to-face interaction.
Because I believe in the organization, and because this video offers insights we can transfer to other contexts, here’s a little more on the Veterans Community Project:
Third, Brennan suggests that you educate yourself. Take time to develop “Cultural competence.” When you understand more about veterans’ issues, it shows when you interact with them. You’re also better able to advocate for improvements when you know more.
That’s important. Advocacy matters! For veterans, it matters because service comes at a price. But sometimes politicians and others don’t want to remember that, or help pay for it.
What does your community do to support veterans? Are you involved in advocacy? Local volunteer action? Please share in the comments, if you’re willing.
IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to the City of Coronado, CA, for the Veterans Day graphic, to the HeartMath Institute (via @Sharon4Veterans on Twitter and Pinterest) for the “Not prepared to be forgotten” image, and to The Veterans Community Project and Kansas City’s Atlas Roofing, for the video describing the Veterans Community Project, who runs it, and why their tiny homes for homeless veterans are built the way they are.