Today is Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Commonwealth countries, set aside originally to mark the armistice between Allied troops and Germany during World War I on November 11, 1918. As we know, the War to End All Wars wasn’t. In 1938, “Armistice” was replaced in the US with “Veterans” but it took until 1954 for President Eisenhower to formally expand and define today’s marking of Veterans Day (PDF):
Whereas, in order to expand the significance of that commemoration and in order that a grateful Nation might pay appropriate homage to the veterans of all its wars who have contributed so much to the preservation of this Nation, the Congress, by an act approved June 1, 1954 (68 Stat. 168), changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day:
Now, Therefore, I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.
Indeed, the five-star general who as 34th President warned us of the military-industrial complex specifically stated that today is also a day to, “reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”
But what of the veterans? Today we acknowledge the sacrifices of friends and family, past and present – men and women of all creeds and colors who really understood the meaning of the word “sacrifice” – and, unfortunately, are again being forsaken upon their return from battle. From today’s editorial in the St. Petersburg Times:
The nation needs to come to grips with the economic and social costs of these wars, and to ensure that veterans and their families get the support they have earned. Two economists told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee this fall that medical and disability costs alone from Iraq and Afghanistan could total nearly $1 trillion — and that does not include the costs of other direct benefits to veterans, such as for housing guarantees or job training. Nor does it include the larger costs to the economy of the lost productive capacity of these younger workers.
Equal to the physical wounds are those of the mind. Mental illness and substance abuse are compounded by the demands of war – former First Lady Rosalyn Carter and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) presented their excellent arguments yesterday in a Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial:
[T]ruly honoring our armed forces means doing all we can to help address the disturbing trends of suicide, family violence, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health conditions found among our troops as a result of combat. Although they often are invisible, combat-related neurological injuries are wounds of war nonetheless and should be treated with the same urgency as we would treat other injuries. . .
. . .The neurological illnesses affecting veterans impact an estimated 100 million Americans and are costing our nation more than $1 trillion annually. Neuroscience research can provide valuable tools to repair and prevent these combat injuries, while putting an end to the notion that an illness of the brain is just an illusion to be willed away. We are at a stage in biomedical research where there can be real hope, confidence even, that with proper funding, scientists can devise treatments and cures that will spare veterans and their loved ones the agony that now accompanies living with PTSD. New research into depression, substance abuse and brain disorders are creating opportunities for healthier lives for all who face these challenges.
We in the US are great at days of commemoration, big celebrations, events on the National Mall, and the construction of memorials. But when it comes to the sustained support of people who sustained us during wartime, often fighting rich man’s wars, they are left to fend for themselves.
As a new Congress is seated early next year, let us all – not just us in science and healthcare – hold these new politicians to their word and Support the Troops.
It takes more than a bumpersticker.