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.

3 creative ways to thank a veteran

Artdog Images of Interest, “with interest”

Last Tuesday, I, and many of my fellow Americans voted. Whether you like the outcome or not, the fact that we have the right to vote is largely because that right has been defended again and again through the years, most especially by the men and women of the United States Armed Services. In honor of them on Veterans Day, I’ve prepared a little photo tribute.

In between the pictures, I suggest three categories of practical ways that you can thank a vet or active service member–and do it in a way that makes a REAL difference. Have you thanked a vet today?

1. Say thank-you with a card, letter, or gift. If you have a deployed military service member in your circle of friends or family, here are some tips from Operation We are Here, on writing to them. Another good source of ideas for writing to either active-duty or hospitalized veterans is the National Remember Our Troops Campaign (NROTC). Or get involved in service projects such as knitting or crocheting cold-weather comforts for active-duty personnel or helping to fill care packages. There are countless opportunities, from local, grassroots efforts to national organizations. All it takes is a willing heart.

2. Prepare yourself ahead of time so you’ll have a better idea how to talk with military family members. Active-duty service members’ parents, spouses, and children all face unique challenges and encounter all too many unhelpful or ignorant reactions from people who have no idea what they’re dealing with. Even more so do the families of injured veterans and  the families of the fallenDon’t add to their struggle–educate yourself! 

3. Since today is Veterans Day, buy a Buddy Poppy. Buy a bunch of them! The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) uses the proceeds to help disabled, needy and/or homeless veterans all year. There are many other organizations created to help, too. Go to Charlity Navigator to find the best services for injured or disabled veterans. There also are many ways to help homeless veterans. Find  programs to help at-risk veterans through the VA, too.

It’s one thing to express gratitude on a holiday such as this one–but it’s something better and more to “be there” for the veterans who put themselves on the line for us. Let’s be there for real.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Aaron Huss’s “Places to Visit” Pinterest Page for the Veteran’s Day graphic at the top. Thanks very much to KaytiDesigns and PrintFirm via Pinterest, for the “Thank You” montage with the flag and the soldiers, and to the Republican Party of Kentucky for the Thank You photo of the assembled soldiers in the red auditorium. Thank you, Mulpix on Instagram, for the “Thank You” with the emblems of the service branches. And finally, thank you for the Veterans Day poppies with Ronald Reagan quote, from the “Through the Garden Gate” blog. And a heartfelt THANK YOU also to all the brave and amazing people (and their families) who keep this nation safe and free.