Memorial Day is a wonderful day in Summit. We hold an old-fashioned hometown parade to the Village Green. In a beautiful ceremony, we honor Summit’s war dead and we remember all the members of our Armed Forces who never returned. We lay a wreath; we play taps and for a moment we stand in solemn, silent testimony to show our respect for the lives of those who sacrificed their lives for us.
There is little more we can do for those who died in service to our country. But if they could speak, I expect they would tell us to remember them but to help the living. Last year I spoke about Bowe Bergdahl, whose picture is on the POW/MIA chair of honor. He is the only prisoner of war from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Within the past year there have been failed attempts to bring Sergeant Bergdahl back home. Let’s hope that by next Memorial Day he will be back home with his loved ones.
Today, I would like to address the tragedy of many of those who DID make it back home. Many are physically broken. We see them with artificial limbs, disfiguring scars and hear about brain injuries that will never heal and may get worse over time. Many of them have invisible injuries - aches and pains from poorly healed or injured bones, diseases foreign to our country. And we learn of veterans with emotional injuries. They too may never heal and their wounds can get worse with time.
There has been a great deal of recent attention focused on veteran’s treatment. Problems with healthcare, student loans and a shortage of job opportunities are now subjects of intense scrutiny by the press. As time passes our nation will face new tragedies and new concerns. Attention will be directed elsewhere, but our responsibilities for veterans will continue. The question remains whether our commitment will match our responsibilities.
Here are some things I would like you to remember. The U.S. government is still paying a pension to a widow of a Civil War veteran - a war ended that 146 years ago. We are still paying hundreds of pensions to wives of World War I veterans – a war that ended 96 years ago. There are now 1.2 million WWII vets a war that ended 61 years ago. There are 2 million Korean War vets, who served 61 years ago. There are 7.3 million Vietnam vets and 6.5 million vets from the time of the Gulf War until Iraq and Afghanistan today. All told, there are now 21 million veterans among us and many will need continuing care far into the future.
Eventually, today’s young, muscular vets who we see skiing and running marathons will grow older and need even more care than they do now. Those with emotional wounds will bear the consequence of fear, anxiety and loss for the rest of their lives.
To me the most shocking statistic is that veterans constitute only 6% of the total U.S. population yet veterans commit 20 percent of the nation’s suicides. On average, 22 veterans commit suicide daily. And tonight, 58,000 veterans will go to sleep homeless. Of them 12,700 will be veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
It has become popular to thank veterans for their service and speaking as a vet, it is appreciated. What will be even more appreciated will be a lifetime of care for the men and women, damaged in body and spirit, throughout their lives, as a tribute to, and in the memory of, those who never returned.
Henry Bassman has written about high-technology and medical technology (biotechnology, medical devices and healthcare issues) for more than 40 years. He retired from AT&T, served in the U.S. Army where he became a captain and worked for ABC News. He is now affiliated with a small investment bank. Articles by Henry can be seen on ABCNews.com and other business Web sites. Henry has lived in Summit, NJ for 37 years and has been married for more than 40 years. He has three daughters who graduated from Summit High School.
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