Memorial Day and Our Veterans

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Sadly, there are lots of ways we fail our Veterans, who have literally sacrificed life and limb for the rest of us. While the list of failures is long, I want to pause and reflect on three in particular this Memorial Day because I think they message powerfully and signal pathways for change in the near term.

  1. Veteran suicide rates are deeply troubling and the effort to curb them has not been a resounding success. More recently, I have been struck by where some of the suicides take place. An unexpected number take place in parking lots or areas near VA Medical Centers. Ponder that for a moment. What does that say? Does where you commit suicide message? Of course it does. Is the message that the Veteran wants to die among comrades or is the message that Veterans want to die at the place that did not facilitate their well-being — whether because care was delayed or non-existent or poor. So, suicide there is messaging “Now you’ll pay attention.” And, look at the ages of Veterans who commit suicide; they are not all young, a time when suicides in the general population are relatively high. Stop this Memorial Day and think about what the location of the Veteran suicides message.
  2. Veterans are not getting the most from their post 9/11GI bill in terms of education for themselves and their families. There is a real opportunity here but for many Veterans, the academic or career choices they make post-military service are not optimal. Some online institutions take their money and do not offer quality programs. Other institutions are not able to handle Veteran students well and are seemingly unable to see the issues Veterans confront transitioning from a battle field to a classroom. And, add to all this that many Veterans have PTS and that inhibits learning and concentration as many studies looking at trauma show. Do we have trauma sensitive colleges and classrooms where the faculty are trained to be more than trauma informed? Who is running pilots on campuses now? And, with so many colleges closing, couldn’t one of them be redeployed, at least in part, to help Veterans who want to further their education? Stop this Memorial Day and think about how Veteran educational opportunities could be enhanced.
  3. We offer TAP and resiliency education for Veterans but we miss a central aspect of how trauma works. Once at war, it is impossible to go back to the status quo ante — for the Veteran and his or her family. The key is not to bounce back — an impossibility — but to bounce forward. This means accepting the new normal. And Veterans often feel alone even with their families as they miss the comradeship they experience in battle. We should know about this because professional and even collegiate athletes who stop playing are often adrift; they miss the locker rooms; they miss the bonding. Can’t we recreate some of that through some Veteran national service initiative? We surely have needs in every sector for added hands and brains and experience. Stop this Memorial Day and think about how we can replicate a civilian version of a troop or a team.

As we celebrate Memorial Day with hotdogs and beer and good cheer and flags, ponder these and other related questions. The time for answers is now. We don’t have time to waste. Colleges and businesses and medical institutions can step it up. That’s what soldiers did for us. Let’s do it for them.

Written by

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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