Veteran’s Day – this is a National Holiday that is replete with symbolism and photo ops. We will see many pictures of politicians laying wreaths at monuments and gravesites. But, if you look closely enough you will see the eyes of some of the participants, some empty and staring back into their memories, others tearing up as they look away. Those are the living veterans. Those are the men and women we should be honoring with more than just a ceremony at a graveyard. We don’t treat our living veterans very well until they are buried. That’s the sad truth.
Consider the history of how we have treated veterans coming home from wars in the past. Congress refused to pay Revolutionary War veterans their salaries and later their pensions. In 1932 veterans marched on Washington D.C. to collect on a bonus they had been promised and they were beaten and imprisoned on orders from President Hoover. Vietnam veterans came home to a Country that couldn’t separate their opposition to the War from the men who were forced to fight in it.
Consider the situation of veterans now. Last year approximately 25% of all homeless people in America were veterans. On any given night one-third of the people sleeping in a doorway, a box or an alley are veterans. Men and women coming home from Iraq are treated in hospitals without proper staffing and equipment. Walter Reed Hospital near Washington D.C., the premier Veteran’s Hospital was housing patients in rooms with walls collapsing from mold with rodents and cockroaches scampering across the floors.
It’s not enough to honor the men and women who served our Country after they have died. We should be honoring them while they are alive. Today, we should thank every veteran we see and shake their hand. We should take the time to write or e-mail our representatives in Congress and tell them we want to make sure that every V.A. Hospital is fully staffed and responsive to every veteran. We need to eliminate the bureaucracy that delays and prevents treatment. We need to fully fund education and housing for all veterans.
Combat veterans understand that the dead take care of themselves and that we need to take care of the living.