Sunday is Veterans Day, and I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly express my appreciation for all who serve or have served in the Armed Services. Each person who enlists commits to make whatever sacrifice is asked of them by their country, including laying their lives on the line if called to do so.
November 11th was set aside to honor our veterans because it is the day that World War I officially ended, but it seems especially appropriate for this day to take place in the same month that we celebrate Thanksgiving. Freedom has never been cheap, and many have sacrificed their time, energy, and even their lives in order to win our freedom and assure that we continue to enjoy it.
We owe the men and women who have served and continue to serve our respect and gratitude. I have not always agreed with the way our military has been used – war is always an ugly and terrible thing and should never be taken lightly – but those who serve do so honorably and without question, and I have always appreciated the fact that I would not be able to speak out in protest if it weren’t for them.
Several years ago, I was in Washington, DC, for Veterans Day. I was able to visit the memorials honoring those who sacrificed their lives for their country. Crowds of people read through the names on The Wall of the Viet Nam Memorial, some searching for names of family and friends while others were simply touched by the human lives represented there. Nearby, statues of soldiers mark the location of a similar wall built to honor those who fell during the Korean Conflict. Dad is a veteran of that war, so that memorial touched me in a more personal way. The memorial built to honor those who fell during World War II is also nearby.
These memorials were built for those who gave their lives for their country; Veterans Day has been set aside to honor those who were willing to. Quite frankly, I don’t think we do enough for our veterans. Too many of them come home and find themselves having to fight for the benefits that are due them. Sometimes it seems that we praise them in fits of patriotism, and then turn our backs on them in their time of need.
While I was in DC that year, I spoke to a veteran who was standing outside the gate to the White House. He held a cardboard sign that said, “I am not asking for food, money, or any other handouts. I’m only asking for your attention.” As I stopped, he turned the sign around. On the other side was written, “Please tell the VA that I exist.”
He had my attention, and I listened while he explained that there had been a glitch in the system, and when he applied for medical benefits, he was told that he was ineligible because, according to the computer records, he was dead. He showed me his dog tags, drivers’ license and social security card to prove he was who he claimed to be. When I said I was convinced, he said, “All I’m asking is for you to write a letter to the VA and tell them I’m really not dead.”
His situation may have been a fluke – simply another case of an individual getting lost in the bureaucracy that results in any large organization – but there are too many stories similar to his. In addition, funding for programs that benefit veterans too often face dramatic budget cuts as our memories fade.
We should honor our veterans with more than words; we should work to make sure their needs are being met when they come home.