It’s become almost a knee-jerk reaction: see a veteran, say “thank you.”
These brave men and women gave years of their lives to protect our nation. Many have suffered catastrophic injuries, both visible and invisible.
As a nation, we owe our veterans a debt of gratitude for raising their hands to protect and defend. It’s not an easy job. It requires a willingness to write that proverbial blank check.
So we say thanks.
Thank you for your service, for protecting our collective national values and assisting other nations in need.
Thank you is not enough.
While troops are on active duty, they get many services provided for them. It’s all in the name of readiness. Our troops get medical and dental care provided so that they are ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. They get a housing stipend or are allocated a room in the barracks to make sure there is a place to lay their heads. There are clothing allowances and life insurance policies and retirement savings plans. Service members have the opportunity to live or deploy around the globe.
All of this is great. You might say that these are the benefits of serving your country. Things are often taken care of or subsidized. It’s handled.
This looks almost glamorous from the outside in. It can seem pretty plush: housing, medical, dental and relocation to cool locations. To the civilian community, these are great, especially in an age of uncertain health care and rising housing costs.
It looks great until it isn’t anymore.
The thing that many non-military connected Americans don’t fully understand is what it takes to live that “plush” life. Troops agree to risk life and limb, in a very real sense. It’s a commitment, to say the very least.
Once military life is over, things change fast. There are, of course, stories of beautiful lives post-service. Veterans and their families who go on to successful non-military careers, they take international vacations and remain in good health.
In one way or another, military service marks troops for life. It’s not something you can ever truly walk away from. Troops from Camp Lejeune are feeling the lasting impact of polluted water. Troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are now dealing with health issues as a result of the waste burn pits. Vietnam veterans are still suffering from the results of Agent Orange.
In just the current conflicts, there are over 50,000 known/reported wounded service members. Their injuries range from missing limbs and scarred bodies to traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders. I say reported wounded troops because everyone came back a little bit different.
Thank you isn’t enough for those who have sacrificed almost everything.
Many veterans carry the baggage of their service forever, mentally and physically. Thousands of veterans are homeless, accounting for roughly 11% of the total U.S. homeless population. Other vets self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. They are attempting to battle back against their demons, to soothe their wounds, in any way they know how.
Once they leave active duty, veterans are shunted right back into the civilian world. Their VA health care only covers service-related conditions, and getting even those covered can be a fight. Too many veterans have died waiting to see a doctor. There are some safety nets in place to assist a veteran who may be struggling or in need of additional assistance, but again the wait could be long or the services provided are not the right fit.
Is thank you enough for the 19-year-old kid who is now missing his legs? He will carry the scars of his service for the rest of his life. His blank check, his defense of our freedoms, required that he sacrifice his limbs.
What about the veteran who is working through debilitating mental health issues as a result of her service? Is sharing a reflexive “thanks” on Veterans Day enough recognition? She might struggle to maintain mental normalcy for the rest of her life, requiring ongoing therapy or medication.
Thank you doesn’t quite cover everything that our veterans have sacrificed for the greater good of our country.
But it’s a start.
Keep offering your thanks for their service, please. It starts a dialogue about military service and sacrifice.
Saying “thank you” or asking about a veteran’s time in the military can open the door to changing the way the VA is handled. We can all learn more about veteran-specific health care issues or employment concerns.
When we have these discussions, then we can start to work together to support those who have given so much of themselves in defense of our country.
Thank a veteran this month and start that conversation.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Is saying “thank you for your service” enough for for veterans?