Thank you for your service.
We’ll say those words a lot in observance of Veterans Day. It’s the least we can do, and by that I mean it’s the least we can do. They’re not empty words, exactly. Most of us really are grateful for the sacrifices veterans made on our behalf. But it’s sort of like offering thoughts and prayers to people who have just been through a disaster. The words do more good for the giver than the receiver.
In these deeply partisan times, it seems like one clear piece of common ground is the need to treat veterans better. Even though VA hospitals have improved over the last few years, there are still long wait times and far too many layers of paperwork. And the system isn’t equipped to handle the millions of new veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fixing those issues requires more money and more attention, but there never seems to be the political willpower to get the job done. That’s because regular citizens – people like us – don’t raise enough Cain about it. Many of us have become detached from military service, since the government no longer requires us to serve. Volunteers make up the military now, and many of them come from poor and minority families – the kinds of families who never get much of a voice in America.
We also don’t do a good job of remembering that military service – especially combat – lingers far beyond the end of the tour. The physical and psychological damage sometimes never heals. Just a few days ago, a Marine Corps veteran named Ian Long killed 12 people at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. He also died in the shooting, possibly by suicide. A few months before, after a disturbance at his home, mental health workers had talked to Long about the possibility that he had post-traumatic stress disorder.
Last month, Jason Kander – the front-runner in the race for mayor of Kansas City – suddenly dropped out to deal with PTSD issues of his own. He was an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan, and although he never saw combat, he lived in fear of snipers and roadside bombs. And when he got home, he found he could not shake that fear.
Those of us who never had to serve can watch all the war movies we want, but we’ll never know what it’s like to live on that tripwire. Meanwhile, we bitterly complain when our wi-fi goes out, or when some kid rides a scooter down the street. Most of us live comfortable lives because our veterans chose to live such uncomfortable ones.
So, yes, to our veterans: Thank you for your service. And to the rest of us: Let’s honor that service, this time around, with something more than words.
Tommy Tomlinson’s commentaries appear every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. They represent his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to his commentaries in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at firstname.lastname@example.org.