I can’t tell you what a relief it is to see that, on occasion, we actually do seem to learn from our mistakes. Because when I think back to how poorly we treated our Vietnam veterans, it still breaks my heart.
But as nice as all those coming home celebrations are, I can’t help but think it’s kind of like going to your wedding. You get that one day of being a star, but then you have to immediately resort to working your ass off just to make the marriage work. And all those friends who helped you commemorate that glorious day are long gone when you hit those first bumps in the road and you could really use them.
In that regard, I’ve noticed two themes that run through the books authored by returning veterans. The first, of course, is the difficulty in leaving behind the kind of daily violence that becomes as natural as breathing.
But the second isn’t as obvious.
To my great surprise, I’ve heard vet after vet talk about wanting to go back to Afghanistan because, after putting their life on the line day after day and building the kind of relationships necessary to keep themselves alive, how do you go back to office politics?
How do you go back to “normal” when this new reality they thrust upon you makes you realize that so many “critical” things really aren’t. The outcome of that t-ball game suddenly doesn’t seem quite as dire when you’ve had to watch a friend die.
So now, wise beyond their too-young years, you have to fit in with folks who can’t possibly comprehend what you’ve been through and firmly believe you’re still the same person.
But you’re not.
So all that public acknowledgment and gratitude has got to be nice and it’s a far cry from what we did to those returning 70’s vets. But it’s literally the least we can do. I’d be willing to bet the vast majority of Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers would trade all those public accolades and back slapping for some serious long-term support and a reliable safety net.
Therefore, it’s time to put all the partisan bickering aside and actually do something about it, because if this country can’t come together over this issue, then we truly are bleeped!
It’s time for Congressional Republicans to let go of their non-stop self interest soiree, dispense with the spoiled three year-old brat act, and pass a veteran’s bill or two. So what if it isn’t perfect – nothing in politics ever is.
And any President who can preside over the kind of ground game that won nine out of nine battleground states, can certainly crack a few VA heads and fix the bleeping thing. The fact that holding people accountable hasn’t been his strong suit doesn’t mean it’s too late to start.
Then there’s us! This may well be the only time that insipid one finger pointing at them while three point back at us analogy actually works. Why wait for the government? We elected those folks to represent us, not absolve us from our responsibility to our fellow man.
There are a plethora of social service agencies and causes run by competent and dedicated people who’s sole purpose is to serve veterans in need. If you can’t volunteer, then send them a monthly check. (Please be sure that most of their funding actually goes to the vets.)
Magnetic yellow ribbons are nice, but cash and volunteer work get the job done.
Even better, if you know or see a veteran who’s going through a tough time, don’t say anything, just listen. Let them talk. Let them tell you where they’re at. Sometimes a sympathetic ear is the best medicine there is.
I guess what I’m saying is this. We’ve certainly made some headway in how we treat our veterans, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better.
So while it’s appropriate and fitting that we remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can sit around the barbecue, drink beer and argue with our extended family, let’s honor the vets who are still with us by taking care of them now, so they won’t be just a Memorial Day memory for at least a little while longer.