It is strange to use the adjective “happy” when talking about Veterans Day. It is, in my mind, the saddest of U.S. holidays. Partially, it’s the weather. It’s November, it’s normally cold and grey. But beyond that, I think it’s because this is the only holiday that celebrates the still living. It sound like it should be a happy occasion except for the fact that we fail our veterans so miserably.
Veterans Day has become a way for us non-veterans to feel good about ourselves. Oh, look at me, I’m thanking a veteran, my work here is done! This is not nearly enough. Veterans face issues, both visible and invisible, that most of us cannot possibly imagine. Thank yous don’t fix these problem.
What can we do? Well, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is still over 10%. We can do things like call our Republican representatives and senators and tell them to stop blocking jobs bills for veterans. We can contact our representatives and ask them to increase funding for research into prosthetics. We can tell them that, when we send our people to war they should be accompanied by armies of psychologists and we should make counseling for soldiers in the field mandatory. We can volunteer in shelters and soup kitchens and other places where veterans are disproportionately represented.
Veterans are sent to war by a political class that doesn’t think about the repercussions of war. They are used in war by generals that, by necessity, think of them as tools in a toolbox. They are spit back up by war into a society that hasn’t changed while they have. We owe it to them to give them politicians who have something to lose by a declaration of war. We owe it to them to give them the tools they need, both physical and mental, to survive the wars we send them to. We owe it to them to provide them the support they need when they return from war.
We need to redefine Veterans Day. Let it no longer be a day of thanking veterans. That should be every day. Let it be a day of looking inward and asking ourselves what we have done in the past year to support those that sacrifice so much for so little. This year, we have failed them. We have a year to go. Let’s get to work.