Despite the NFL’s anthem protests, Americans can meet again on common ground to support our nation’s veterans

As we near the end of a year in which the United States hasn’t felt particularly united, we’ve been troubled to find military veterans in the middle of a national sore spot.

People who see standing for the national anthem as a non-negotiable way of paying respect to veterans have been feuding with those who support the rights of NFL players to protest racial injustice and police brutality during the anthem.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation, where I serve as executive director, is a manifestly nonpartisan organization. Operating this way has allowed us to successfully invest more than $45 million in finding, funding and shaping programs that empower veterans, service members and their families across the country.

However, outrage over the national anthem is an item we felt we needed to examine more carefully. The issue has thrust veterans, and respect for them, into the public discourse. We would be remiss not to take the country’s pulse on the subject.

Our commitment to veterans has long strengthened our country and reinforced the values of our communities, and it can continue to bind us moving forward.

In a survey we fielded in November to 800 Americans ages 18 and up, the statement “veterans make this country great” was the most readily agreed upon of the statements we put forth.

In fact, 74 percent of respondents agreed, and only 10 percent disagreed. Levels of agreement were consistent across regions, with 75 percent agreement in the South, 74 percent in the Center-Great Lakes and 73 percent in both the East and the West regions.

If anything, the dialogue around the NFL protests may have heightened Americans’ awareness of our responsibility to respect those who serve in the military. Across the total sample, 55 percent agreed with this assessment. Further, 56 percent of respondents said that media coverage of Gold Star families has increased their awareness of what military sacrifice means. 

This common ground is worth our attention, especially as we approach the clean slate of 2018. Our commitment to veterans has long strengthened our country and reinforced the values of our communities, and it can continue to bind us moving forward.

Our survey also revealed another area of agreement among Americans across all regions, age groups, city sizes and levels of education: On the question of whether the U.S. government is doing enough to serve wounded veterans, more than eight in 10 Americans were unified in their belief that it’s not.

At the Bob Woodruff Foundation, we aim to complement the government’s efforts to tackle the tough challenges that injured veterans and their families can face. This includes dedicating funds and resources to address the critical shortage of mental health-care providers serving the military and veteran population.

This need was very painfully reinforced recently when a former U.S. Air Force member murdered much of the congregation at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

According to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, approximately 18.5 percent of U.S. service members who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. And 19.5 percent report experiencing a traumatic brain injury during deployment.

While it’s still unclear exactly how his time as a service member impacted the Texas gunman, we do know that Americans are looking for ways to help and to come together after yet another deeply felt and shared tragedy.

By supporting those organizations and programs that are committed to meeting the emerging and long-term needs of our veterans and their families, Americans can meet again – not on a football field, not on a battleground, but on a common ground. 

Anne Marie Dougherty is executive director of Bob Woodruff Foundation.