Today in Mount Airy and communities across the nation, special events are being held to honor our military veterans. Flags will be raised, words spoken and patriotic music played.
Then everyone will go separate ways and resume their lives. And although they should be congratulated for coming out to a Veterans Day parade or ceremony, especially when it’s cold, I would guess that a good many attendees of such events won’t think about military members again until the next holiday.
And a day-to-day existence largely filled with public neglect will go on for veterans, some of whom face unique problems in society as a direct result of their military service. Based on information from advocacy groups for ex-service members:
• Twenty veterans commit suicide every day in the United States.
• One-third of homeless people in America are said to be veterans, which is a result of unemployment and other factors. It is estimated that on any given night, 39,471 veterans have no real place to call home, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
• While some improvement has been noted recently as part of a general jobless rate dip, joblessness among veterans is historically high, reported to be nearly twice the national average in 2011. While one might think military personnel would build up a variety of skills during their service and also benefit from some companies giving hiring preference to veterans, often those skills don’t translate to civilian jobs.
If someone has spent a lot of time away in a country such as Iraq or Afghanistan, they also can be out of the loop and lack networking opportunities for employment which those who didn’t serve enjoy.
In addition to outright joblessness, under-employment has been an issue for vets.
Individuals caught in this trap can have mental health, substance-abuse and other problems stemming from their time in hostile environments and might not be able to hold down a job at all with such baggage. It can include dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and not enough treatment resources for that and additional conditions.
• Getting timely and proper medical treatment from Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities also has been an issue, but again one that has showed some improvement. (Although this partly is due to a huge public outcry over the past couple of years about a shortcoming in care which shouldn’t have occurred in the first place.)
I want to make it known that I’ve never served in the military, but would think it is pretty tough to transition back into “normal” American life even for veterans not plagued by any of those problems. I can only imagine what it’s like to be placed in a combat zone in a hostile nation and having to come to grips with the realization that (a) someone is shooting at me and (b) I could get killed.
Even if one escapes being wounded, they doubtless will see others who are and witness firsthand the carnage, devastation and human tragedies of war.
Logic dictates that there is no way people can go through such experiences and not be adversely affected at least to some degree.
And the sad thing is that those who make it through wartime deployments and return home — only to face homelessness or other ills — can be considered the lucky ones.
All you must do to understand the even worse fate of the “unlucky” ones is take a walk through a military cemetery sometime and see the countless row after row of graves of soldiers who died well before their time. Names of young men who lived only to their 20s or 30s, maybe also their ranks and the units in which they served, are listed in mute tribute to these heroes.
They never had a chance to raise families, see their grandchildren and live to ripe old ages while experiencing the best of what this country has to offer. Meanwhile, their sacrifices have made it possible for others to enjoy freedom, even those jerks in the NFL who have disrespected the national anthem and flag — dishonoring veterans in the process.
Now another Veterans Day is upon us — Nov. 11, 2017 — and more appreciative words, marching bands and other salutes to make a former military member’s chest momentarily swell with pride.
Yet everyone should remember that life goes on for veterans after the clamor of the ceremonies dies down, some of whom will continue to face multiple problems just trying to survive.
People often say in reference to Christmas that the spirit of the holiday should be maintained for the rest of the year, in terms of its warm and giving atmosphere.
And every day ought to be Veterans Day.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.