Honoring Veterans Means Changing the System That Cares for Them

You are appreciated and loved, but this country owes you more

Photo by Holly Mindrup on Unsplash

The sacrifices veterans make for everyone in this country warrant far more than one day of appreciation per year and small percentages off goods and services.

This country bears responsibility and must be held accountable. We need the military, and I, for one, am a grateful citizen knowing there are people far more courageous than I who ensure our freedom. However, the young men and women indoctrinated into military culture, killing to keep this country safe, living in remote parts of the world away from their families, are left hanging once their usefulness ends. That is wrong.

Citizens of this country demand equity and protection, yet the people charged with the most dangerous calling in the nation are at ridiculous risks of physical and mental health problems, unemployment, substance use, homelessness, and suicide. They leave their families for months and years at a time, and kids grow up without a parent there for them.

When veterans seek help for these things, the bureaucracy of the VA takes precedence over ensuring a service member and his or her family are treated well and able to thrive. While active duty, the line is “don’t admit you’re hurt or you’ll get kicked out” and then as a veteran, “well, if you didn’t report it while active duty, it doesn’t count as service-connected.” Then, after serving, instead of “how can we make your life better?” the mantra at the VA is “how can this institution save money by using the cheapest methods possible?”

“Thank you for your service” is not how we honor them. We honor them by changing the VA so that veterans have the best health care in the nation, not the worst. We do it freely and generously, so it is not a chore or a humiliating experience. We proactively provide care to overcome the training they received about not asking for help and pushing through the pain because there are people worse off than you.

We show our appreciation by the way we care for them and we’re not doing very well.

We honor them by paying them fairly so active duty and veteran families do not have to use food stamps to get by. We honor them by streamlining their access to the benefits they earned instead of making them feel guilty for asking. We honor them by making sure every veteran has a job and a home waiting for them when their service ends. We honor them by giving them time and assistance to heal, to shake off war and adjust to a non-military lifestyle. We honor them by caring for the families of the fallen, so they do not have to worry about where they will live, what they will eat, or how to provide for their kids.

These things are possible.

Legislators earn well over three times the amount we pay average military personnel. Legislators and federal employees have access to high-quality healthcare outside the VA system, so why are veterans stuck with subpar service? As one marine veteran in Texas so eloquently noted, “If Congress had the same pay and benefits that military families get, change would happen real fast.”

Photo credit: Author’s private collection. Camp Doha, Kuwait, 1991

My husband, Army Signal Corps veteran of the Persian Gulf War, a survivor of explosions at Camp Doha, Kuwait, and the most honorable man I know. Injuries he suffered during military service caught up to him 20 years later forced him into early retirement and disability. The disability application process took 4 years and repeat humiliation, and we know there are veterans who wait longer and endure far worse. The VA does not have the capacity to treat his health condition, so we use private healthcare. The horrible thing is there are veterans with conditions worse than his who cannot get adequate care from the VA and can’t turn to private care. On the positive side, his military training gave him the strength to endure high levels of pain every day. He is and always will be a courageous warrior.

My dad, Richard F. Arnold, who gave up his Navy career halfway through his enlistment to raise me on his own after his divorce.

Floyd V. Arnold, P.O.W., U.S. Navy

My grandfather, Floyd V. Arnold, held by the Japanese for three years in World War II after the U.S.S. Houston sank. He was 17 years old. He died in 1984 still carrying the parasites from his experiences. I never had a chance to hear him talk about it. However, I learned the courageous stories of the Houston crew from videos and the book, Ship of Ghosts by James D. Hornfischer. What struck me most about my grandfather is that after he came home, he stayed in the Navy. He served in the Korean War and then as a liaison in Japan. A man of honor.

Because of my husband’s interest in all things military, I have read and watched the stories of numerous veterans. I am consistently humbled by their experiences and even more so by Lysa Heslov’s documentary Served Like a Girl which shows the double-whammy of hardship experienced by women veterans. It breaks my heart that the people who put their lives on the line to keep this country safe are not honored with tangible support when their service ends. We ask them to kill for us without question, and then expect them to be fine when the combat ends.

In reality, their service never ends.

Veterans who served 20, 30, 40 years ago remember combat experiences in vivid detail. Nightmares, mental, physical and moral injuries plague them their entire lives. The services available to them need to be on par with the level of total sacrifice we ask of them.

My brother-in-law is an Army Captain, currently serving in Korea. I pray that by the time he reaches veteran status, this country has the courage to reorganize its financial priorities. I pray he and his cohorts can transition to civilian life knowing they are loved and cared for through the tangible resources and services they need to thrive.

If this country values freedom and security, then we need to show it.

In honor of warriors present and past, I salute you.

Trudi Griffin, MS, LPC

Written by

I think & read, therefore, I write. Shining light in the darkness with words. writer @ counterculturemom.com, skinpick.com, trichstop.com, reviveshine.com

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