Many Veterans still paying the price for their service

Published 11:21 am Friday, November 10, 2023

Like so many other American “holidays,” Veterans Day is observed more as a long weekend off work, or a chance to put merchandise on “sale.” Flags are waved, parades are staged, cemeteries place tiny American flags at the markers of those who served.

But many Americans don’t stop to think about something because it might make them uncomfortable—that many who served are still paying a price. There is turmoil inside their heads. It won’t stop. Nothing relieves it. There is no cure.

And they are not likely to talk about it.

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Our country has sent men and women to war for generations, but not all wars are the same. Veterans of my generation came home from Vietnam and other support areas feeling unappreciated, even scorned, spat upon and ridiculed—as if we had created the conflict. That feeling that our service was not appreciated haunts some today.

Post-9/11 vets received the appreciation and thanks upon their return to home soil that Vietnam vets did not. Yet, they suffer, too. In fact, post-9/11 veterans are more likely than their predecessors to bear some of the physical and psychological scars of combat, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

The struggles some veterans face aren’t the cliche “shell shock,” “combat fatigue” or the “two-thousand mile stare.”

By far the most frequently cited struggle is one many of us can either relate to today or at some point in our lives—the struggle to pay bills.

I, and many others, were lucky to return home from service and go right back into the job we had when we left, including the paycheck. Others, not so fortunate.

Some slipped into substance abuse. Many never regained their footings, falling into homelessness and thus under the scornful eyes of those who believe that they are there because they don’t want to work.

Others suffered what they felt was the indignity of having to rely on government support in order to feed their family, or themselves.

Others have had to depend on special hospitals for veterans, and as we all know—or should know—in many cases the care they got was worse than in some third-world countries.

In our own state, North Carolina has the eighth largest veteran population in the U.S. The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners is currently presenting its documentary “The Veteran’s Battlefield: A Story of North Carolina’s Veterans” in every county. You should see it and learn more about what you can do to serve our veterans.

Think about this: we have 700,000 veterans in North Carolina alone. That means that this weekend if you go out to a Veterans Day parade, or shop at your favorite store looking for a bargain, or pass a cemetery with those tiny little flags fluttering next to a headstone, you are apt to come close to someone in pain.

So take a minute. Don’t just say “thanks for your service,”  which is respectful and appreciated, but ask them a question: How have we treated you?

 

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com