Veteran’s Day was originally created as a celebration of the end of World War I, and a remembrance of all those who risked their life to fight in the hellish conflict. The holiday developed from there, and has increased in scope to become, as the Veteran’s Association defines it, “a celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
The holiday is a way to return our veterans’ love and willingness with a love and willingness of our own. Our sacrifice of a single day is nothing when compared to the sacrifice veterans have made. Unfortunately, this single day does nothing to rectify the astonishing fact that the Department of Veteran Affairs receives 3 cents of every tax dollar, and that 53 cents of every tax dollar goes to the military. This highlights how the United States’ is willing to fund high-risk occupations in hostile countries, but not as willing to thoroughly support troops when they return from their debilitating experiences.
This lack of support creates our extremely serious veteran suicide epidemic; for every one soldier killed in combat this year, 25 will kill themselves. Our 17-24 year old veterans are four times more likely to commit suicide than nonveterans. This rate is directly a result of the lack of support for veterans upon leaving the military. The amount we spend on war compared with the amount use for helping these mentally traumatized young citizens is disgusting.
We are willing to send them to their deaths, but only have minimal support ready if they survive. Having a day to celebrate their heroism while simultaneously not supporting their many needs is a testament to the ignorance many citizens have about our current veteran support system.
This high suicide rate is also a result of the stark lifestyle change that veterans go through upon exiting the military. They go from highly stressful and dangerous jobs to emptiness of purpose in one day. The unemployment rate of young (17-24) male veterans is currently 30 percent in the U.S. One of the hardest parts of going from an active duty soldier to a veteran is this lack of purpose upon exiting the service. A combination of purposelessness and posttraumatic stress disorder makes a dangerous cocktail for our young veterans, one that, logically, results in their desire to withdraw from their personal hell.
The unpopularity of our current wars and the disconnect between veteran’s combat experiences and public understanding of the traumas of combat are also immensely troubling to young veterans. Upon withdrawal from the military, veterans are faced with lack of purpose, understanding and support while simultaneously facing the judging gaze of their non-military peers who disagree with our current conflict. Much reform is needed in order to fully meet the needs of our veterans.
Whether or not you agree with our current conflicts, or war in general, we must all seek to understand and aid our veterans. They chose to go to war as no draft exists in our current conflicts, but they should not be blamed for war itself or the situation they now find themselves in. Support must extend past Veteran’s Day and last all year round and be aimed at creating a more robust and comprehensive mental health support systems for veterans. The duty of understanding and supporting these veterans belongs to all of us. They have risked so much to do what our nation has sent them to do, so let’s do what little we can to repay them for their sacrifices.