There are many things the public will not understand about what it means to be a veteran of the United States Armed Forces. Service, honor and sacrifice are required of the men and women who we celebrate today. All we can say is thank you, but we can do much more.
Nov. 11 is Veterans Day, but it was once called Armistice Day. On Nov. 11, 1918, the armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany, temporarily ceasing the hostilities of World War I. In November 1919, President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the day with these words:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”
In 1954, President Dwight E. Eisenhower changed “armistice” to “veterans,” making it a national holiday.
An earnest thank you. A firm handshake. A wave to the veterans at your local parade. These are simple ways to show appreciation without shoving a veteran who willingly volunteered onto a pedestal they don’t want. But more valuable than a passing thank you, is engaging in a conversation, donating to a charity for veterans and becoming educated on the role of veterans.
Speak, but listen. What do people say when someone thanks you? They say, “You’re welcome.” It’s a flat conversation that doesn’t break the surface. When appropriate, ask a veteran about why he or she chose to serve and how you can better honor them in your everyday life.
If you can have a relationship with a veteran, get to know them and the issues they face. Twelve percent of the adult homeless population are veterans, according to Support Homeless Veterans, Inc. Of that 12 percent, 70 percent are suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Invest in lives and listen to their experiences.
Get educated. Even if you aren’t interested in joining the armed forces, to properly thank a veteran, it is important to know more about their training, their lives in active duty and now. There are also different types of veterans and not all have served in combat. Veterans each have different experiences in service like anyone would. Each will be impacted differently by public policies and laws.
For example, in 2015, nearly 2 million veterans and their families relied on Medicaid as their primary healthcare provider. Major health care overall can negatively impact veterans and their families. If we want to thank veterans, we need to know how the programs we vote for or against will impact their well-being.
Go out and vote. One of the triumphs of our democracy is the ability to vote for our representatives, governors and presidents. Every veteran has fought in some way to protect that enormous right. Our elected officials have a direct hand in our relationships with other countries and decisions regarding war. We are a strong country because of our citizens and the people who make up our military. Having knowledge about laws that affect your community, you can vote. Voting is a power taken for granted and a power that many veterans do not want to see wasted.
Invest in charities that support veterans; including charities such as Hope for the Warriors and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America help veterans by supporting their educational, health care and employment needs. However, there are different types of charities that go beyond monetary gifts. For example, United Service Organizations is a nonprofit organization that provides care packages and entertainment to veterans and their families.
For our veterans, we need to do more than say thank you. They are worth it.