One of the unexpected perks of this job has been meeting and interacting with our local veterans. In the last five years I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a handful of them through articles and interviews and they are some of the finest, kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever met. They’ve all sacrificed much — years of their lives, time with family, all too often their health, and more — in service to our nation.
On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, they get a lot of lip service from elected officials and the media. And yet, again and again, I hear stories about how once they come home they can’t get the care they need for injuries — mental and physical — sustained in the line of duty. Nationwide, more than 20 of our veterans die by suicide every day. Others suffer with physical pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the alarming after-effects of being part of the “war machine,” whether it’s exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam or exposure to the toxic compounds released by the “burn pits” used to deal with waste in the Middle East.
It doesn’t seem to matter which political party is in charge, our veterans are far too often left to fend for themselves when they come home, forced to do battle with the same government they swore to serve in order to get the care they need.
Meanwhile, we’ve got elected officials bickering about Big Bird. Something is wrong with this picture, don’t you think?
If we can’t even care for the men and women who put their own lives on the line, what kind of a country are we? It’s time we start taking care of our own. I don’t know what needs to be done to make that happen, but it’s something we should all be thinking about the next time we go to the polls or donate to some political campaign.
“Thank you for your service” is a nice start, but it’s not nearly enough. We can do better.
By NIKI TURNER – email@example.com