Today’s blog post is brought to you by my lovely intern Emily!
This is embarrassing to admit, but as recently as a few years ago, I didn’t pay much attention to Veteran’s Day. Both my grandfathers, two of my uncles, and my father served, and the US has been at war for the majority of my lifetime, but Veteran’s Day was only a minor blip on my radar.
Until I met J.
He was on leave after returning from his deployment to Afghanistan when I spotted him in our local Walgreens. Sagging sweatpants, snapback turned backwards, pointing out the particular brand of cigarettes he wanted to the cashier.
Long story short, he convinced me to go out with him. On our second date, he showed me what seemed like a deployment yearbook. It was filled with pictures of his time overseas. As he turned the pages, J talked openly about the stresses of preparing for war–the constant training, the sleepless nights, days with little food and even less contact with loved ones. The strangest part of it, he said, was they were excited to go. It was the reason most of them enlisted in the first place.
On one of the first pages of his deployment book, there was a letter from a Lieutenant Colonel. He summarized the purpose of their mission and the realities of their fight. In seven months time, their battalion conducted
- 2,805 patrols
- engaged in 300 fire fights and
- suffered 71 IED strikes (finding another 292 before they detonated)
Of the men and women who served at that time
- over 600 earned Combat Action Ribbons (commonly known as a CAR)
- 3 were recommended for the Silver Star
- 10 for the Bronze Star
- 90+ were recommended for other medals related to combat action
- 39 earned the Purple Heart and
- 6 made the ultimate sacrifice.
The numbers overwhelmed me. The war that had seemed so far away was suddenly right at my fingertips. Faces coated in layers of dirt, sweat, and sand stared up at me from the pages. Some of these men (some barely so) laid down their lives for their brothers and their country, and I had never paused to give them a second thought.
The more time I spent with J, the more I learned about the men on those pages. Even though the majority of them returned home with no physical injuries, they struggled with integrating into the “civilian world”.
In the military, there is order. You follow commands and the weight of your word is backed by the rank on your collar and ribbons on your chest. In the civilian world, all those things disappear. We talk differently, we think differently. Newly minted vets are thrust into a society they don’t understand and almost immediately experience overwhelming culture shock. Everything they were taught–how to walk, talk, act–is no longer acceptable. This transition period can be extremely isolating, especially when the brothers and sisters they relied on are now spread out across the nation.
There’s no timeline for the transition, either. Some of the people J served with had no problem picking up where they left off while others struggled to find their place again. Years passed before some of them found any semblance of peace in their new surroundings. In that time they battled a variety of issues–flashbacks, insomnia, anxiety, angry outbursts, and the list goes on.
The more I learned about their struggle, the more frustrated I became. We are regularly bombarded with soundbites of politicians regurgitating some version of “support the troops”, but where was the support now? Did the extent of our country’s “support” end at yellow ribbons and flying an American flag one day a year? Did it end when their uniforms came off?
Pew Research Center found nearly 84% of Post-9/11 vets say the public doesn’t understand the problems they face. At the same time, nine out of ten members of the public expressed pride in our troops and three-quarters said they thanked someone in the military. But when 14% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are estimated to have PTSD and most are unlikely to receive the treatment they need, saying thanks isn’t enough. When veterans die at a rate of nearly one a day, setting aside one day to “honor” them is not enough.
So this Veteran’s Day, I’m asking you to do better. I’m asking you to go beyond the ribbons, the flags, and the thank-yous. I’m asking you to act, to reach out, to show your support in a way that makes a difference in a veteran’s life for more than a single day. Below is a list of highly-rated veteran-oriented charities/organizations that will put your time or your money to good use.
- Fisher House Foundation
- Donations help provide free housing for the loved ones of injured service members while they receive treatment, pays for flights and hotels, offers grants and scholarship funds for wounded veterans and their children
- Hire Heroes USA
- Career coaching, job sourcing, resume reviews, and more
- Semper Fi Fund
- “provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families, ensuring that they have the resources they need during their recovery and transition back to their communities”
- Operation Homefront
- Emergency assistance in the form of food, vision care, transitional housing, auto and home repair; also provides mortgage-free housing to wounded veterans and their families
- Puppies Behind Bars
- Teaches inmates to raise service dogs for wounded veterans
- AMVETS National Service Foundation
- Visit hospitalized veterans, help them file VA claims free of charge, provides scholarships, help vets make a smooth transition to the civilian world
- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
- Boots on the ground in Washington, D.C., provides one-on-one support to transitioning veterans through their RRP program, recently worked to pass the Clay Hunt SAV Act which
I hope that this November 11th you’ll take a second to remember those who fought to uphold the values of our nation, and then I hope you’ll go one step further.
Finally, Happy Veteran’s Day, J. Thinking of you and so many others. So proud to call you mine.