Yesterday was Veteran’s day.
Here’s what I hate about Veteran’s Day.
I see a lot of images and memes “Thanking Veterans.” For a few brief hours, the internet swims in stars and stripes and purple hearts. But it’s important to remember that putting a yellow ribbon magnet on one’s car, or file cabinet, or fridge, doesn’t help a veteran in need. Embroidering a Thirty-One tote with a yellow ribbon, or putting an image of one up as one’s profile picture: these are all very visible ways to look good supporting a good cause without actually having to do good works and help a fellow human.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s all well and good to post an image of an American Flag superimposed over a Purple Heart overlaid with the words “Thank a Veteran Today.” But shouldn’t we be thanking veterans everyday? What about the smelly ones that live under a bridge? What about those veterans holding a cardboard cutout with “Hungry” scrawled across it sitting at the freeway offramp–do those veterans deserve our thanks? And furthermore, would we–as individuals, as a nation–give it? Currently, we do not.
Not on November 11, and not on any other day.
The pictures making the rounds yesterday–Veteran’s Day–are of two brands: images from actual war service (which may not be so pretty) or images from clean, shaven, polished vets in dress blues–or better yet, images of statues and monuments, clean and bronze and shiny. Nowhere do I see memes sharing the reality for more than a million vets who are homeless or at risk of being unhoused.
In fact, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, nearly 50,000 vets are homeless on any given night. And, like you may have guessed, veterans of color account for far more of these depressing statistics. The vast majority of unhoused veterans, by the way, are young–returned from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan–people my age, or younger. Want more? Read this article about the veterans and substance abuse. Read this article about the prevalence of suicide among vets. Read this article about female veterans seeking redress for sexual assaults which happened during their service. Read this article about the high rates of veterans on death row.
I teach at a community college–remedial English–and every term I have veterans on my roster. One, I remember in particular, dozed off in class repeatedly. This was because his bunk at the VA was infested with bedbugs–as were all the bunks. He was up all night scratching, and spent his days wandering through a fog of sleeplessness. He could not pass my class. He could not pass any of his classes. When I spoke with him, during office hours, did I thank him for his service? Yes. Was it November 11? No, it was not.
Yesterday, I wondered if those who thanked a veteran by spending a total of 30 seconds clicking “share” would crawl through the brush to get to a homeless veteran, living in a tent on an over-pass and drowning their PTSD in Mad Dog 20/20 in order to thank them for their service. Or better yet, bring them a hot meal. Or take them for a hot shower. Maybe some job training. A lice-free bed to sleep in.
More importantly, would I?
Changing one’s Facebook Profile picture for a day “in honor” of veterans does nothing to help them survive the struggle of re-assimilation into civilian life, or help them cope with PTSD, or help them gain secure employment when their military training doesn’t translate to a civilian job, or garner them safe, secure, drug and alcohol free housing. It doesn’t fund the necessary psychologists and specialists the Veteran’s Administration would need to help those returning from service assimilate back into civilian life.
So in the wake of this Veterans Day, in addition to thanking my brother and sister in law, and my father, and uncle… I am also thinking about those who may not look or smell as nice, but who all the same served our country. In many ways they gave up even more: their mental and physical health, often long past their time of service was up.
Here’s a place you can look up organizations helping homeless vets get stable housing and substance abuse treatment in your area. Here’s another organization that focuses on housing as well. Here’s an organization helping veterans who sustained injuries during their service. And here’s one specific to assisting assimilation for returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. This organization serves female veterans specifically. And this one that works to help women serving in the armed forces. In the Asheville area, check out this and this wonderful organization.