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Tag: Veterans committing suicide

On a background of the US flag are the symbols of the five branches of US military service and the words "Veterans Day: Remembering all who served."

Service comes at a price

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.

On the backdrop of a US flag, we have symbols for all five branches of the service, Marines, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force, and the words "Veterans Day, Remembering all who served."

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 difficultIn 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.

A dark background and a black-and-white photo of a homeless veteran combine to make the point, along with an anonymous quote: "I was prepared to serve, I was prepared to be wounded, I was prepared to die. However: When I came home, I was not prepared to be forgotten."

Acknowledging that service comes at a price

By now most of us have learned that the popular phrase “Thank you for your service” can come across as hopelessly glib and thoughtless to some veterans. 

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.

Respect

How do you celebrate Veterans Day? How should we? I think that varies with the individual or family, whether one is or is not a veteran, and sometimes which war hits closest to home for us.

A Veterans Day parade in Milwaukee, WI, complete with banners, flags and uniforms.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with a good parade, honor ceremony, or display of the flag. In many places you can buy a remembrance poppy, evoking memories of World War I, and a tradition in English-speaking countries since the 1920s.

I sometimes feel that the trappings of patriotism–the outward signs, such as a flag pin on a lapel or a patriotic meme on a Facebook wall–get more focus than actual, substantive ways to support veterans and their families.

Last year I posted some thoughts on how to thank veterans that might be worth another look, if you’re so inclined. But it seems to me that we as a nation need to think long and hard about how we treat our active-duty military personnel and our veterans. It’s easy to wave a flag and say “Thank you,” and I’m sure many feel good to be publicly appreciated–but is that the supportiveness they truly need?

If we, as citizens and taxpayers think veterans should be better-served than they currently are, we first should educate ourselves about where the needs truly lie–then get active on a local, state, and national level. To me, that’s the best form of patriotism: the hands-on, trying-to-make-it-better kind. P.S. Did you vote for better government last Tuesday?

If we’re paying enlisted personnel a living wage, why do so many of them end up as prey to the predatory payday lenders whose businesses cluster near military bases?

Back in 2011, I wrote about dilapidated schools on military basesMany were still struggling to improve their facilities as recently as 2015, though academic scores were rising.

If we’re so grateful as a nation to our veterans, why don’t more employers make a point of hiring them

Why are there so many homeless veterans? Also, what can ordinary citizens do to help them? Why are social and mental-health services spread so thin that veterans too often fall through the gaps?

Why do so many veterans commit suicide? How can we stem this trend?

Looks elegant–but are we making it REAL? That’s an open question, I fear.

It seems clear to me that we still have many serious “system upgrades” to put in place, before any “thank you for your service” we say won’t be at risk of seeming kind of hollow, to all too many of our returned warriors.

No matter how sincerely we mean it.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Honor Our Military (based in Milwaukee, WI) for the photo from their 2014 Veterans Day Parade; to the Remembrance Day Pinterest page and Pin for the poppy-themed thought (photo sourced from Hubpages); and to Ultimate Medical Academy via Pinterest for the quote image about real heroes. Thanks are also due to Diply via Pinterest for the Mark Twain quote about patriotismFinally, I am grateful to the National Veterans Foundation for the “dog tags” Thank You image.

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