I don’t often rant. But the skewing of American values upsets me. What got me going this week? Veterans Day.
Often the holiday honoring our veterans puts them behind the eight ball. Many workers who’ve never served in the military get a paid a day off. Many vets don’t. When I wrote copy in advertising agencies in San Antonio and San Francisco, none of my bosses ever said, “David, you’re a veteran. Take the day off. With pay.”
A vet who went to the post office on Wednesday to mail something important or pick up a package found it closed. Needed to speak with the manager of his or her bank branch? The doors were locked. Tried to figure out what to do with the kids on a workday—if you weren’t a federal, state or city employee? Tough luck. On the brighter side, you could snag a pre-holiday bargain or two. Stores ran sales.
Don’t get me wrong. Many Americans thanked veterans. Facebook and TV news attested to that. But as a society, we fail our veterans more often than honor them. The hypocrisy of Veterans Day represents the tip of the iceberg.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been caught in scandal after scandal. The VA has flat-out failed to appropriately serve vets—men and women who came home from wars with grievous wounds both physical and emotional. Hopefully Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald will move his department off the dime. But a culture of “don’t rock the boat” will be hard to disrupt.
Along those lines, the suicide rate among veterans is 50 percent higher than among non-vets according to the Los Angeles Times (1/14/15). Suicide rates are highest during the first three years out of the military. And Americans respond by going to the mall?
It’s understandable why many vets have a hard time adjusting to stateside duty or civilian life after tours to combat theaters. The culture shock is huge. Heightened stress levels challenge integration into “normal” life. Moreover, most Americans haven’t a clue. They’ve never served. Yet many non-veterans enthuse about sending American troops into harm’s way without understanding the issues or risks. After 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney ardently pushed President George Bush to invade Iraq—a fool’s errand. Years earlier Cheney supported the war in Vietnam but never served in the military. He had “more important things to do.”
Finally, don’t thank me for my service. After graduating from Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia I ended up at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The only action I saw was coaching the post basketball team for two seasons. But I gained new insights and went to graduate school on the GI Bill. The Army gave me far more than I gave it and the nation.
So let me acknowledge the men and women who—willingly or not—gave up their time, their wellbeing and their lives to serve the United States. In their honor and in the memory of First Lieutenant Howie Schnabolk, I sent donations to Fisher House, which hosts families of veterans receiving medical care, and Swords to Ploughshares, helping vets in San Francisco. I can’t think of a better way to make Veterans Day meaningful.
Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.
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