By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
I have never been a big believer in big moment admiration. And by big moment admiration I mean the kind where you do nothing for long periods of time and then all of a sudden here is a big day to show you how special you are, and tomorrow, by the way, I am going back to doing nothing. It is nice that we have a day called Veterans’ Day that we set aside to show Veterans’ for one day, how much they mean to us, but it would be even better to commit to a year-round effort to see that our Veterans’ needs are met.
It is a shame, that in a country as rich as ours, and one which uses its military as much as we do, that for many Veterans, once their years of service are over, there is no real commitment to seeing that their ongoing needs are met. It is a shame that our Veteran Affairs military health care service is so poor and so understaffed, that many Veterans cannot get timely treatments for life threatening conditions and as such their health is even further compromised. It is a shame that we know that Veterans have the need for specialized mental health treatments to deal with issues created in many cases from repeated exposure to combat violence, and yet we do not adequately budget funding to meet this need. It is a shame to know that military families are struggling to adjust to a life that now features almost constant deployment to hostile and violent environments, and again, as a society we have not committed the resources to ensure that every family gets the help they need.
A parade and a pat on the back is not what our Veteran’s needs. Our Veterans need for us to be a voice for their needs year-round, not just on one special day. Support for our Veterans would mean that when the President called for a trillion-dollar tax cut for the super-rich, that we as a people would have raised hell with both political parties and said on behalf of our Veterans, couldn’t you just give them a $900 billion tax cut and commit $100 billion to better meet the needs of our Veterans. What would a $100 billion in funding to house and counsel the Veterans who make our way of life possible look like? It would look like compassion.
Do you realize that one of the main sources of our homeless populations in most cities is military Veterans having a hard time adjusting to life after the military? Again, these are the men and women who do the jobs that most of us do not have the heart or the capacity for. Yet many of us walk right by them day after day, looking away so as not to feel the need to do anything.
You would be amazed at the stories you might hear and the lessons you might learn if you took the time to show these men and women just a little compassion. I talked with a Veteran recently who had endured five years of homelessness, but through a Program called HUD VASH had recently moved into his own apartment. As I talked with him I would learn that he was one of the last soldiers to be deployed to Viet Nam. In fact, the plane that carried him to Viet Nam would sit on the runway for several hours without allowing anyone to deplane, before announcing they had received new orders and were taking the troops back to their stateside base. But you would never know the history you could learn from this man, because you only want to think of him once a year, on Veteran’s Day.
I could tell you about Veterans I have talked with who had not seen their own children in years, because of homelessness and substance abuse challenges, but because they were able to receive help they have been able to build a life with their children and families. And in my humble opinion the children and the families gained as much as the Veteran did.
It is nice to have a day and a parade in honor of the sacrifices our men and women in the services have made. But it is even more important that we make a daily commitment to learning and then meeting the needs of these special heroes. Or at least that’s the way I see it.
(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)