Of the thousands of veterans I’ve met over the years, I cannot recall any who have sought recognition for their service. More often than not, they instead tell me they were “just doing their job.” Yet their profession, the defense of our nation, is critically important to all of us. It is difficult, dangerous work that takes its toll not only on our service members themselves but their loved ones at home, as well.
Veterans Day is an annual reminder that the freedom we experience and the safety and security we enjoy that allows us to live the lives we lead is earned by the sacrifices of a courageous few. As citizens, it’s our duty to ensure our veterans know the gratitude of our nation—not just on this holiday but every day. We cannot forget those who have fought in past conflicts or that we still have thousands deployed in harm’s way around the globe.
During the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have seen remarkable advances in field medicine and care. While this may have reduced the number of fatalities, many more have returned home injured or seriously wounded. As we have now been at war for the past 13 years, roughly 50,000 military personnel currently live among us bearing the severe wounds of war, both physically and mentally. For our defenders, the transition to civilian life is challenging. For our wounded, it can be a constant battle. Their struggles can affect the entire household, and ongoing treatment can quickly become ruinously expensive.
We have become aware of the startling shortfalls in care these men and women often face. While the media has provided troubling glimpses of the health-related complications that veterans experience in seeking care, the bigger picture is alarming.
Earlier this year, the Gary Sinise Foundation and the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families hosted a summit to examine solutions for closing the widening “care gap.” Survey data suggests 71 percent of Americans do not understand what combat veterans endure, and 84 percent of veterans polled said the public has “little awareness” of the challenges they face in life after combat. This suggests an urgent need to supplement existing support and raise public consciousness on a grassroots level.
Emotional trauma is at epidemic proportions. From 2002-2012, 103,972 cases of post-traumatic stress (PTS) were reported. According to a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 22 American veterans continue to take their own lives every day.
Physical injuries often compound the emotional damage. In the same 2002-2012 time span, 1,715 battle injury amputations were performed. Beyond the personal struggles, loss of limb and/or physical disfiguration places tremendous stress on veterans’ families. Loved ones often must take on the role of caregivers, and post-traumatic stress can affect the entire family.
For our wounded, maintaining access to ongoing healthcare support systems is a daunting task. Reentering society and finding employment is especially difficult. More than half of all veterans report feeling disconnected from their communities.
Their sense of disconnect is a solvable problem. Willingness to help and raising awareness where help is needed within individual communities are important first steps. Local citizens in every community need to connect with these veterans and their families to provide support however possible. As citizens, it’s our duty. These are our freedom providers, and they and their families need our help. Very simply, if every neighborhood in every community in every town in every state sought out their local veterans and offered their hand, we would have the problem solved.
It is a dangerous and unpredictable world. We need to keep our military strong and ready to face whatever may lie ahead. This means caring for them before, during, and after the battle. While we can never do enough to give back to our veterans and military families, let’s seize this Veterans Day to remember to honor our defenders and try to do a little bit more to assist them in the coming years. To help close the “care gap” for the veterans in our communities, let’s all help ensure our wounded heroes are not forgotten.