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Many fighters for freedom still face a ‘crisis’

They sacrificed for all of us. Some we knew, some were our family members.

Some were complete strangers. Some belonged to our religious faith, some did not. Some were original Americans, some whose families were immigrants, some were colonists who fought to make this a country, and some, their descendants. Some were of our political affiliation, some were not.

On Memorial Day, when we honor our fallen heroes, they are everyone — and they died for everyone’s freedom.

On Memorial Day, there should be no us and them. Do we gather to remember only those who affiliated with our party? Do we say a prayer for only those of our particular faith? Do we send our sons and daughters to war to protect one faith, one political party, one economic class? They go as defenders of freedom and democracy, to protect a country that enshrines government of the people, by the people, and for the people. All the people.

The town of Sheridan, in its Memorial Day service, presented as its speaker, George H. Burns III, a decorated local veteran and co-author of the book, “No One Forgets” which chronicles the fallen heroes of Chautauqua County. He told the stories of several of our hometown heroes and their ultimate sacrifice. He made a suggestion that I took to heart and I hope many others will too. We all try to thank veterans that we meet for their service, it is a polite and well-meant offering. But maybe we should be saying “thank you for your sacrifice” instead, because along with their service, came a great deal of sacrifice.

In the preface of his book, Burns says “Those (who) serve our country in military service, whether or not it is during times of war, are special people. … Those in the service are driven by a desire to take a stand, put their lives on hold, and then on the line, to protect something of value to all of us.”

All of us.

But while we honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice, we may be failing to take care of our military and our veterans who do make it home after great sacrifices. All of us owe a debt to them that we should be repaying. It is good to acknowledge and thank them, but they need more than that.

The Veterans Administration has been struggling to meet the needs of our returning soldiers, sailors, airmen and women. Figures from 2019 show that 6,261 U.S. veterans died by suicide, according to a 2021 National Suicide Prevention Annual Report released by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The average suicide rate for American adults is 18 per 100,000 people, for veterans it is 33.7. President Joe Biden’s White House has called this a “public health and national security crisis.”

Since 2010, more veterans have died by suicide than the total number of deaths from combat during the Vietnam War and the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Programs have been set in motion to address this crisis, but they must be funded. Our government is responsible for the care of its veterans; as President Biden says, it is a “sacred duty”.

The VA needs to make necessary improvements to all types of medical care for our veterans. For upgrades to infrastructure and to make state of the art medical technology available to patients. To sufficiently staff inpatient, outpatient, mental health, and long-term services so that veterans do not suffer long wait times for appointments. To make remote care via Telehealth available to veterans, especially in rural areas. The recent passage of the PACT act has expanded the care that is covered for those who suffer illness due to toxins they were exposed to. The VA says it has been the biggest improvement to veteran care in the last 30 years.

The Veterans Benefits Administration gives veterans or their surviving loved ones the benefits they have earned including pensions, insurance, disability, GI Bill educational support, and employment services needs adequate funding so that these benefits are not unnecessarily delayed.

We owe our service members support for their families. Military families are key to the readiness and wellbeing of an All-Volunteer force, so programs should be prioritized to help with child care, housing, employment for spouses.

All this and more is not too much to ask of our country to give back to those who sacrificed in many ways to offer what they could, many all they could, for us, its citizens. All of us.

When we say, “Thank you for your sacrifice” we can also back it up with a buddy poppy donation, a tradition of Memorial Day which helps to support organizations like the VFW who in turn, help our veterans with many different programs.

There are other ways we can help besides our monetary donations. There are many veterans who are homeless, shelters need volunteers, they need supplies. Before we go to the polls, let’s look up the candidate’s history, what their stance is on supporting veterans’ programs, where it is on their scale of importance.

Our armed forces are heterogeneous. The population of the United States is heterogeneous. It’s all of us, not this side or that. That’s what makes freedom in our country so special, the idea that we are different but all considered equal, that differences fade away in times of crisis or struggle or war.

We should view a homeless vet, who sacrificed and is still sacrificing, as an equal who needs us to give our service to them now. Americans have always shown that they come together when there is a need.

Many of our vets need our service. If we can sacrifice a little time or a few dollars for them, that is not too much to ask.

On Memorial Day, we honor all the dead for their sacrifice for all of us, and every day, we thank — and help — the living for their sacrifice for us also.

Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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