Let's Honor Our Veterans More than Once a Year

Are people paying more attention to Veteran’s Day this year because of the uniqueness of its date—11-11-11?

Will this Veteran’s Day garner more media “play” because it comes on the heels of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks?

I don’t know.

I do know that our military has been at war for a decade—and it has performed courageously and successfully. The reports and media coverage of our latest Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Dakota Meyer attest to all that—and more.

It was my privilege to attend the Congressional Medal of Honor Association’s Annual Dinner in Louisville recently. While Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were honored, it was the rest of us who were honored by just being in the presence of our humble military heroes.

I’m reminded of the line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when, during a prolonged chase Butch asked Sundance—“who are those guys?” Really, who are those guys who go into kill zones five times and save lives at incredible risk of their own?

Will Americans honor all the Dakota Meyer’s who have fought, struggled, bled, and died in the War on Terror this Veteran’s Day? Or will most of us “celebrate” the holiday by going to the mall and check out the sales?

I don’t know. There will still be parades in many cities and towns and I’d like to think they will be well attended by grateful citizens who understand that freedom isn’t “free”—someone pays the price for it.

Throughout our American history, someone has always stepped up to pay that price. The U.S. military has been keeping us safe from a repeat of 9/11—volunteers all, they are a military not seen since George Washington’s army in the Revolutionary War.

Two million have been sent to combat—over 25 percent coming from National Guard and Reserve components—where multiple deployments over the past decade have challenged the old notion that they are “part time soldiers”.

Military service isn’t easy on a good day. In addition to the obvious physical dangers presented by combat operations, stress at home is part of the package. Divorce and suicide rates are at record levels. Combat stress and traumatic brain injury numbers are in the hundreds of thousands. Reductions in the federal budget will affect the Defense and Veterans Affairs (VA) Departments—no doubt.

Combined with a stubbornly unresponsive economy and job market, the next several years of returning forces and shrinking budgets pose extreme challenges for our returning warriors—and their families.

But this isn’t just a challenge for the troops—it’s a challenge for all of us to ensure the benefits promised when they volunteered are fulfilled. Waiting over 150 days for a disability rating from the VA is not an obligation met. Assignment to a mental health clinician with 900 patients is not an obligation met either.

However, it’s not just the government who represents all of us in this obligation to our troops. Each one of us is on the “hook” to do our part. The banker or loan officer who robo-forecloses on a deployed soldier’s home in violation of the law has failed all of us in our mutual duty. The employer who doesn’t keep the job that the National Guardsman left when activated (in violation of the law), fails for all of us. But what can we do?

First, we can let everyone know that we won’t tolerate behavior that violates the statutory rights of our service members. If you find that you are doing business with say, a lender, who has repeatedly wronged military personnel, you can take your account elsewhere.

Second, if you have time and skills, you can volunteer to assist at a variety of clinics and medical facilities that treat veterans and active duty personnel. You can take a page from the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces program and get your community involved with the military families living in your town. Research a military charity that actually helps the troops and donate—both your money and your time.

Bottom line--you can do so much more than just watch the Veteran’s Day parade, or, God forbid, go to the mall. Don’t let this Veteran’s Day 2011, like the parade in "Hell-O Dolly" just “pass you by”. Take your citizen’s obligation to honor and support our veterans seriously—not just on this one day—but every day.

Bill Nelson is Executive Director of USA Cares, a national non-profit based in Radcliff, K.Y. that provides financial and advocacy assistance to post 9/11 active duty U.S. military service personnel, veterans and their families.