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This year’s Memorial Day commemoration comes during a period of questioning — about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the affordability of our government services and which of those services were made in the nation’s best interest.
I submit that we, as a nation, have no more binding and sacred commitment than to those who wear our uniform and fight in our wars. Their selfless sacrifice on the field of battle has been a distinct hallmark, and saving grace, of this nation since before the Revolutionary War.
On this Memorial Day, we will respectfully honor all those who have served our nation in uniform — from past wars and battles through today’s 10-year conflict against international terrorism and its sponsors.
But how do we honor them best? Parades are nice — very patriotic — and the public gets to feel a sense of shared pride.
But when the parades have passed by and the music from the marching bands dies away, is our job done? Is that a true fulfillment of our commitment to our troops?
I suggest that it is not. Our most recent veterans continue to struggle once they return from the battlefield. Except this time it’s a contest fought against a backdrop of a sluggish economy and high unemployment.
According to May reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate of OIF/OEF women veterans is three percent higher than just a year ago. Male veterans between ages 22 and 28 are especially hard hit by high unemployment.
Despite a plethora of government programs that have “veteran” and “employment” in their titles, these numbers continue to reflect failure to perform.
Access to mental health treatment in a timely and effective manner is yet another commitment we owe our returning heroes. Yet the Veterans Administration had to recently backtrack its claims of 95 percent on-time access to mental health support after an investigation proved that the real number is about half that.
The men and women who need mental health treatment are not numbers on a government report — these are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters to whom we made a commitment of service — in return for theirs.
So this Memorial Day, let’s all do more than picnic and party. By all means, go to the local parade and honor our military. But on Tuesday, I encourage you to be bit more attentive to if we are living up to our nation’s commitment to those who fell in battle and to all our honored veterans.
If you’re not satisfied with what you see — do something about it.
John Tindall is president of USA Cares Inc., a national charity organization supporting military families, which is based in Radcliff.