I’m a veteran. I joined the Air Force in 1963 and served overseas for three years. I joined out of patriotism and have always been proud of that. I wanted to serve my country and felt it a duty. But let me tell you - as an old man now - I realize how much a stint in the military can disrupt a young person’s career plans.
When one is discharged, one does not just slip back into a civilian career and move forward. There is a bit of shock and being a civilian is a whole different world from being in the military. Our veterans need help transitioning to civilian life. I did it with no help almost 50 years ago - and the vast majority of vets do it without any help. There is no help from the Veterans Administration. The VA is fubar, although there is again hope for positive change.
Unless you have been in the military, you cannot understand the disconnect between civilian and military life. What our country has always fallen short on - and still does - is helping veterans adjust to civilian life. I have read that half of all vets are homeless for their first two years after service. I believe it. What we learn in the military for survival and functioning just does not work in civilian life.
What puzzles me is how our U.S. Congress can short-change vets as it does. Congress spends for the wars and big military toys on a continuous basis but has always short-changed veterans. Always. Since the beginning our our country, through the Civll War and all our modern wars. Congress and the VA just refuse to really follow through and support veterans. Help is left to private donors and non-profit organizations.
What inspired me to write just now was an incident that happened to me about a month ago. I am on the board of a local organization and I had just taken responsiblity for a local public flag. As the flag pole was a dedicated Veterans flag pole, I mentioned to the group that I was a vet. And the secretary, a person I have worked with for years but did not know I was a vet, said, “John, thank you for your service.”
I almost teared up. I think it was the first time in my life anyone had said that to me. When I have heard this said to others - on TV or at speeches - I have always thought it was a bit patronizing - a bit just paying empty lip service to vets. But said to me, it tugged at my heart strings. I was amazed at my own emotional reaction. I had no idea I would react like that.
So I want to tell you, gentle reader, that saying thanks to a vet does mean something. I’m not jumping on the band wagon of the slow militarization of our American way of life - but rather suggesting that the people who have given up several precious years of their lives to serve deserve much more than we provide them. They earned it. In spades. Whether they saw combat or not. Any who served know this simple truth: you go where they tell you to go and you do what they tell you to do. Whether combat or support, a person in the military does what they are told to do. That is the definition of duty.
But much more important than saying thanks is to fund programs for veterans, programs for transitioning back to a healthy civilian life, for assistance on medical expenses for life, for more sensitivity toward emotional and psychological help, for education and housing benefits. This should be done through our taxes and our government and the VA. It should not fall to public charity. This is one of the proper functions of government - good government.
For the top photo, I googled “homless veteran”. Took the first photo.