On November 11, our nation’s veterans will be offered deals, discounts, and free meals at local restaurants. There will be memorial ceremonies, celebratory dinners and an extra day off for some. It’s the one day of the year that Americans take a minute to stop and say “thanks” to those who have served our country.
But what most Americans don’t think about is how life is for our nation’s vets and their families the other 363 days out of the year (because let’s not forget that most people think Memorial Day is a day to thank veterans who are still alive as well . . . but that’s a story for another day).
I am not one of these people. My finger is on the pulse of America’s veteran community. I am the wife of an Army veteran (who is now a Veteran’s Service Officer), the granddaughter of two WWII vets, a niece to a Vietnam vet, and a friend to many others who have served.
So for me, Veterans Day is perhaps something entirely different than it is for those who have no ties to the veteran community. I’m not saying someone without a veteran in his or her life don’t deserve to celebrate or honor the holiday; however, I carry a different perspective on the holiday than most.
To me, Veterans Day is something we should be celebrating not just one day per year, but every day of the year.
We should be helping our homeless vets find housing all of the time. We should be offering them job training and hot meals every day of the week. We should be reaching out to the vets in our communities to offer them rides to doctor’s appointments or to pick up their medicine for them at the pharmacy.
We should all be helping our veterans with the mental health issues that they battle, not just on Veterans Day, but every single day of their lives. We should always be cognizant of the alarming suicide rates among veterans and putting programs and resources together to help prevent the loss of 22 of our veterans per day. More than one day per year we should be extending a helping hand to our veterans who are contemplating becoming a part of this growing statistic.
We should be looking out for the families of our veterans, too. We should look out for the young widow with two children under the age of five who just lost her husband and now has no income, no home, and no partner. We should be extending a helping hand to the elderly woman down the street who lost her son in Vietnam and has no grandchildren to come cut her lawn in the summers. We should be taking our daughter’s young friend with us dress shopping for the school dance, because as much as she’d like her mom to take her, she is currently serving overseas and won’t be able to do so.
I know all of these things because I’ve lived through many of them myself. I’ve seen friends lose their husbands to war and suicide and have nobody there to help them pick up the pieces. I’ve seen members of my family who are veterans struggle to find work for years after returning home. I’ve seen families break apart because the stress of deployment and the aftermath that follows that destroys the relationship of the parents beyond repair. I’ve seen how much PTSD and TBI can change a person into someone you don’t recognize.
For those of you who have no idea what it is like to either be a veteran, be married to one, or be the best friend of one, please understand that your free meal, your oil change discount, or your 50% off coupon are appreciated, but there is so much more that you could be doing for our veterans during other times of the year.
Most will stop to say “thank you” on November 11, but the very next day, go on with their lives.
I will attend the local Veterans Day ceremony at our veteran’s park in town. Then I will probably go out to eat with my husband at one of the many places he can get a free meal that day. But then, we’ll come home to our two young boys and we will continue our daily lives. He won’t stop being a veteran at midnight the day after Veterans Day.
The mother of a soldier I knew won’t be having her son come through her door magically at midnight.
That couple I know from up the street won’t fall back in love and get remarried and raise their son together when the clock strikes 12:00.
And my husband will never see the pieces of his soul he had to leave in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to make it back alive. They are gone. They will never return.
Not even on Veterans Day.