This weekend and on Monday we salute our veterans: Past, present, old, young, those who served in combat and those who have not.
Each and every one of them answered the call to defend freedom at all costs to benefit something larger than themselves; the greater good of the United States of America.
There are currently over 20 million veterans in America. Each one has a story, has family, and friends. Each with hopes and aspirations for the future. Each put them on hold to defend the Red, White, and Blue.
President John F. Kennedy once said on Veterans Day, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that our highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
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How do we thank our veterans?
Not with a handshake or a hug, but with a population that understands their sacrifices do not come without a price and by ensuring that all of our nation’s heroes receive the proper care and benefits they deserve when they come home from war and transition back into civilian life.
That means not having to suffer through the bureaucratic disarray of the Department of Veterans Affairs or trying to find work in an unstable economy where post 9/11 veterans faced 10.1% unemployment in September.
It means that our nation and government have our veterans best interest as their priority. Our veterans deserve better than what they are currently facing.
Instead, veterans were recently locked out of their war memorials that they fought for, that their friends died for.
They were told that their benefits checks would not go out during the partial government shutdown.
Death gratuity benefits were initially denied to grieving families of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Many veterans are struggling to find work as unemployment for post 9/11 veterans has consistently been in the double digits in recent months.
Some employers are apprehensive about hiring veterans because of the outrageous PTSD stereotype that follows our modern vets due to the false stigma about PTSD in the media and Hollywood.
On average, 22 veterans commit suicide every single day.
The Department of Veterans Affairs data shows that more than one third of new mental health care patients have to wait more than the standard of 14 days to receive an appointment. And in some instances, veterans have to wait more than a month to receive care.
The VA has the funding, the assets, and the personnel to prevent this from happening, but instead our veterans are not receiving the adequate care they deserve.
The VA claims backlog is still out of control.
Hundreds of thousands of veterans have to wait well over a year to receive an answer on the decision of their enrollment eligibility for a first time claim. And follow-on claims or disputed claims can take years to receive an answer.
The VA is not performing as the service oriented department it was intended for. Instead veterans are suffering the stresses and hassles of a dysfunctional bureaucracy.
This is not the environment or the treatment that veterans deserve to come home to after putting their life on the line day in and day out.
If we allow this to continue, what does this say about us as a nation? Are we are so willing to look past the current status quo of our veterans?
Right now there are still 54,500 US troops fighting the war in Afghanistan. That’s 54,500 people who are missing their families, missing their way of life and missing the freedoms that we as Americans get to enjoy each and everyday.
And you can bet that every time they wake up and strap on their boots before heading out on a patrol, a raid, a convoy or a flight that they remember why they chose to fight for freedoms and liberties that make this nation extraordinary.
Because it’s those who have answered the call to serve, those who are willing to sacrifice, and those that believe our nation should be handed down to future generations as we found it, they are the ones who truly understand the price of freedom.
This freedom that we have grown so accustomed to, that many take for granted in their everyday lives, is a privilege, not a right, which must be preserved.
It is bigger than you and me.
It is a vision of hope, opportunity, and prosperity.
It is fragile, yet resilient and will be defended at all costs.
Our veterans are our nation’s heroes. They stepped up to fight our nation’s wars without question or doubt.
They don’t ask to be paid as much as politicians or NFL players or to be Hollywood celebrities. Instead, they believe in their hearts that our unique nation, the United States of America, is not only worth fighting for, but worth dying for.
They believe the freedoms and liberties that make it exceptional are worth preserving at all costs. They ask for very little, if anything in return for putting their lives on the line.
They understand that they are contributing to the greater good for the sake of our future. The least we can do to show our appreciation is demand that our veterans are being taken care of when they come home.
So this Veterans Day think of what you can do to make our nation a better place here on the home front.
There is still plenty of work to be done. Because if you really want to thank our veterans for their sacrifices, their service to our nation, and for their dedication, we can do so by ensuring they are coming home to the America they fought for and that many died for.
It is because of them that we are able to enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we have grown so fond of.
It is because of them every American has the opportunity to pursue the American Dream. And it is because of them that we are still the most exceptional nation on earth.
Amber Barno, of Concerned Veterans for America, is a writer and commentator. She is a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information visit www.amberbarno.com.