Give Meaning to Words

November 11, 2019

This is a story about just one veteran.

His story is a little disturbing. But it says something about the meaning of this national holiday in American culture today, during a time of war.

Not long ago, a newspaper in a midwestern city wrote about a young soldier who suffered a serious brain injury in Iraq.

The Department of Veterans Affairs had already diagnosed the wound. In addition to the injury to the brain, VA doctors also found combat-related stress and deafness in one ear.

But the young soldier was receiving no benefits from the government.

Things might have been a little easier if he was still married and his wife was bringing home a paycheck. But during his last combat tour in Iraq, his marriage went on the rocks. It ended shortly after he came home. A severely disabled veteran.

So there was no help there as the months passed, and he waited for the VA to finish processing his claim for benefits he earned by fighting for our country.

He couldn’t pay his utilities. He lost his water service. Electricity would go next.

Rent was becoming a problem. Fear of homelessness was taking hold.

For food, he had to depend on loans from this family and local charities.

This young man came home from Iraq with several medals. By our usual definitions in America, he’s a hero. Imagine how he felt, going to a food pantry to ask for help.

We cannot solve every problem in this veteran’s life. We cannot put his marriage back together for example. And there’s only so much the VA can do to repair the damage to his brain, his hearing, and his spirit.

This much is obvious: America owes its heroes something far better than the indignities that came down the path for this young Iraq war veteran.

This story is not unusual, that this is just one person who, somehow, slipped through the cracks.

But this story represents day-to day reality in the world of veterans’ affairs – for troops coming home disabled from Iraq and Afghanistan, for all of America’s veterans.

We need to put some meaning behind the phrase, “Support Our Troops.”

Supporting the troops means making sure our men and women in uniform have what they need while they’re serving our country in uniform and when they come home.

Supporting our troops means understanding that a soldier, who lost an arm in Afghanistan in 2003, is not different from someone who lost an arm in 1943 during World War II.

That arm is never going to grow back.

Supporting our troops means being there today and sixty years from now. It means our government must make a serious, meaningful, long-term commitment to the men and women it asked to defend our country.

Veteran’s Day is only a few weeks away. Many of us will celebrate the day with Veterans at remembrance ceremonies and events. But Veterans Day is not just a ceremonial holiday. It’s also a time to ask if we have done enough for those who served our country.

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