Veterans hold a special place in my heart. They always have and always will. I’ve had the idea for this piece ruminating in my brain for months, yet lacked the ability to focus my thoughts into a coherent article. So, on the night of the Midterm Elections, I found myself too nervous to watch the election results and decided to scroll through Twitter. As Veterans Day approaches, several tributes from vets to the ones, who paid the ultimate sacrifice came across my “feed.” They described the emotional impact of seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and never forgetting their fellow service men and women, who died in the line of duty. This brought me back to my senior year in high school when I went to Washington D.C. and viewed the Vietnam Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. I commented on Twitter that the Vietnam Memorial is so “simple,” yet incredibly powerful. The enormity of all those names carved in stone has never left me along with the image of friends and loved ones leaving mementos near someone’s name or etching in pencil and paper a soldier’s name from the memorial. I’ll also never forget the 2007 photograph of a woman lying across her fiancé’s grave in Arlington crying, remembering, and still loving the man who died in Iraq.
I’ve always felt it important to read books or watch movies or programs about the various wars and the experiences of our veterans. We must know what they went through and what they fought for because how else can we, who have not served, comprehend what they’ve lived through and truly appreciate them and the sacrifices that they and their families have made for us? Several months ago, I found myself watching, Thank You for Your Service, which is based on a true story and was struck by the obstacles that our returning men and women go through in adjusting to life outside of the military and war. Growing up, my father always imparted to me how lucky I was to be born and raised in the United States. He knew that we enjoy freedoms and opportunities that others do not possess. Being small and idolizing my father, I always remembered his words, but I lacked the ability to truly understand them until I grew older.
After viewing Thank You for Your Service and thinking back on the other books and movies that I’ve read and seen, it made me realize how inadequate that phrase is to describe what we owe our veterans. They put their bodies and lives “on the line” for us, they had to leave their loved ones behind, they witnessed their friends die, they gave up the comforts of home, so I wondered, “What are the right words to thank them?” Are there any words that can encompass the gratitude that we feel and owe to them? I don’t know and still don’t. The best that I can offer them is this: “All that I have and all that I am, I owe to you.”
Actions speak louder than words and our actions are vital. Our veterans need us. Not one veteran should be homeless in this country, yet the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (http://nchv.org/index.php/news/media/background_and_statistics/) cited a HUD report that “40,056 veterans are homeless on any given night.” We need to start or involve ourselves in community organizations that provide assistance to veterans. In addition, we must hold our elected officials accountable to provide assistance for them.
Much has been written about the horrendous delinquencies and, to me, criminality that has occurred at Veterans’ Hospitals. We must demand that our government appoint qualified and ethical people to head the VA and completely overhaul how our VA hospitals conduct themselves. In addition, our veterans should not have to endure the wait and red tape to obtain disability status. They’ve been through enough and our government should not inflict anymore stress or hardship on them or their families.
We must demand that the GI bill be overhauled to meet the current increasing costs of a college education. In addition, veterans should not have to pay money to obtain additional certification for training that they have already obtained in the military.
I’m not attempting to infer that I have all the answers, but I know who our government should be speaking with – our veterans. Who better to communicate with than them on what is broken with the system and how to fix it?
Moreover, we cannot “ask” our government officials to commit to these actions because no one got anywhere by simply asking. We must demand it.