For the rest of the world, the news of the most recent VA scandals is shocking.The media this week is filled with outrage and indignation, including replays of President Obama, in 2008, vowing to get to the bottom of the issues with the VA.
For veterans and their families this news was not new. We have been aware for a very long time that the system is ridiculously broken and corrupt.
I wanted to say “we’ve been trying to tell you people this!” but for so long it seemed that no one was listening. We’ve lost more men and women since they came home, and were under the watch of the VA healthcare system, than we lost in the actual war. That’s right; we’ve lost more of our soldiers on the soil of this country than we lost at the hands of the “enemy.”
Hasn’t 22 suicides a day been any type of a clue?
As a child, Memorial Day was the start to the summer season in the coastal community I lived in. It marked the beginning of days at the beach, summer jobs and time with friends. I knew what the holiday was really about. I had pictures of grandfathers and uncles in uniform but their service hadn’t affected me, hadn’t even occurred in my lifetime. I didn’t know anyone who had actually died in war. For me, it just wasn’t real.
That’s what is changing. We’ve sent so many of our sons and daughters to war that the results of that are hard to ignore anymore. Everyone knows someone who is a veteran, or the parent or spouse of a veteran. We can no longer turn the other way and pretend we don’t notice what is going on, what we’ve done, again, to an entire generation of our children.
I never really imagined how war would touch my family, until the five years that my son served in active duty, including the year he patrolled the streets of Baghdad. Then, war was always on my mind. Every day, every news story, every flight of soldiers that took off from our local airport, every flag draped coffin that came back to the United States, they all became personal to me. But the worst didn’t happen, my son walked off the plane into the waiting arms of his family.
What we know now five years later, that we didn’t know then, was that his life and in turn, our lives, would be changed forever because of his service. We had no idea yet, how he would struggle, both physically and emotionally in the years to come. We had no idea yet that one of the biggest challenges to returning vets would be fighting for the healthcare they so desperately need.
In the years since then, my son has lost one of his fellow soldiers to suicide. How many do you know?
Please remember them this Monday, when you are enjoying your day off with family and friends. You won’t see a lot of young veterans marching in the parade. It is still too painful for many of them, too fresh. It doesn’t mean they aren’t as patriotic as all the older vets, it just means they are still hurting.
Many of them coming back are changed forever; physically and mentally. In addition to being injured, inside and out, many are heartbroken. Not only have they lost fellow soldiers, but they’ve lost hope. They’ve lost hope in a government, in a system that promised to take care of them.
We raised them to believe this was the best darn country in the world. They were willing to die for those beliefs. They went, honestly and truly, because they believed they were helping to make the world a better place. They sacrificed their own health and well-being for all of us. They also sacrificed so that citizens in countries across the globe could have the same freedoms that we have here. You don’t have to agree with that, you don’t have to share in their beliefs or their politics; you don’t even have to understand it. They just need you to respect their commitment, that’s all, just respect.
And we show that respect with more than just a parade.
We show that respect by supporting legislation that helps them find jobs and healthcare. We show that respect by reaching out, and caring, by being someone they can talk to, so that those struggling don’t continue to feel all alone. We show that respect by writing our representatives, by making phone calls, by shouting in the streets that this is not acceptable!
We must demand change! We must demand a healthcare system for them that works! We must demand an end to partisan politics and blaming and name calling! We must show them respect by demanding that the folks we hired to work in Washington stop acting like whiny children and just do the right thing!
Memorial Day is a day to remember those who died as a result of war. This Memorial Day let’s remember not only the soldiers who died on foreign soil, but those who came home, to die of neglect and mismanagement.
Let us not forget this the next time we have the privilege to cast our votes. Our tax dollars paid for this mess. The lives of our soldiers paid for this mess. Let us remember the real cost of war to our country. Every one of those names on a tombstone, every one of those suicides, every single one of those veterans who died while waiting for healthcare, or who sat for for months on fake waiting lists, every one of them is someone’s husband or wife, father or mother, son, or daughter or friend.
Veterans and their families have been angry for a very long time. It’s time the rest of you got angry also!