Tomorrow morning, I’ll drive out to the Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery to visit my dad’s grave site. My dad was a veteran of World War II and rests there with thousands of his comrades. As today is veteran’s day, I wanted to write a small post of thanks to all who have served in the military and to those continuing to do so. The service these men and women perform is a remarkable gift to those of us who have benefited from their protection. I would like to say that we understand and appreciate the work, sacrifices, and benefits that have been provided to us by our soldiers. I’d like to say that we have been steadfast in our appreciation, recognition and reward for a job well done. I’d like to think that we believe as Churchill said “Never have so many owed so much to so few”. I’d also like to think we who have never served have some small understanding of what they went through to do their jobs. Certainly, when we think about it, the problems we generally face in our jobs pale in comparison to what they face or experienced. After doing a little research, I’m concerned we don’t really understand or appreciate their sacrifices, especially of those who no longer carry arms into combat, but instead carry the scars of their experiences.
According to the National Veteran's Foundation (www.nvf.org), I found the following:
1. There are about 31 million veterans in America today. Many of them have lasting trauma from their service known as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The National Center for PTSD estimates that one of every 20 veterans has suffered symptoms such as bad dreams, irritability and flashbacks. Research suggests that as much as 30% of US soldiers who fought in Korea that are still alive suffer PTSD symptoms. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Survey found that 30% of Vietnam Veterans have suffered from PTSD. The numbers here are daunting. While PTSD can range in severity, some veterans are truly disabled by this and have lost considerable abilty to function in civilian life without treatment and medication. Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are also suffering from some type of psychological trauma. Estimates indicate that around 18% of the veterans of these conflicts are impacted.
2. The VA has seen a tenfold increase in PTSD cases in the last year. According to the VA, more than 23 thousand veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have sought help for Mental Health Disorders.
3. According to to the Pentagon, since March 2003, 40 US Soldiers and Marines have committed suicide in Iraq. At least 20 Soldiers and Marines have committed suicide since returning home. Since the end of the Vietnam War, over 110 thousand of the 3.4 million veterans who served in Viet Nam have committed suicide.
4. The Miles Foundation reports that calls to their Domestic Violence for military spouses has increased from 50 to 500 per month since the start of the Iraq War.
5. The divorce rate among active duty soldiers deployed has increased signficantly, with officers impacted the most. Last year 3,32 officer's marriages ended in divorce. This is up 78% from 2003 and more than 3 1/2 times the number of 2000. For enlisted personnel, the numbers are 7,152 divorces, up 28% from 2003 and 53% higher than in 2000.
6. One in three homeless men in America is a veteran. Of all the homeless veterans, 42% are Vietnam veterans.
7. According to the VA, a study of inpatients at their facilities indicates that nearly 85% of them have annual incomes of less than $15 thousand dollars.
8. The number of the veterans using the VA system has risen from 2.9 million to 5 million in 2003.
9. In 2005, the VA forecasted a $2.6 billion shortfall for meeting the growing healthcare needs of US Veterans. The VA's patient to doctor ratio has risen from 335 to 1 to 531 to 1 between 2000 and September 2004.
I consider the information described above to be appalling. How are we treating those who have performed jobs that most of us wouldn't do or in some cases intentially avoided? Not very well. It's important as we go about our daily routines to consider the work and the plight of these, our benefactors.
I was recently in Washington DC, and had some time to visit the Viet Nam, Korean and World War II memorials as well as the Arlington National Cemetery. All are stirring tributes to those that have served. At the same time, the memorials don't feed nor provide care to the sick or shelter to the homeless. I can think of no better memorial than our country's collective demand of our government that we do better for our living veterans who need our help. We need to be both personally engaged in assisting those veterans who need it as well as calling on our congressmen, senators and our president to do something about the situation described above.
We have elections coming up in 2006. One of the questions that I will certainly be asking of the candidates will be around improving the conditions of veterans who need our help. Let's pay homage to the living memorials that are walking around every day. If you see a soldier, thank them for their service. If you know a veteran or have a relative who has served, make a point of thanking them. It's the least we can do for the work they've done for us.