The word “sacrifice” gets used a lot, but it can be difficult to truly appreciate the full meaning of that word. For one group of people, sacrifice takes on a special meaning.
This weekend we honor our nation’s veterans. While Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who died in military service, Veterans Day was created to honor all those who currently or previously served in the military.
And those who served certainly know a lot about sacrifice. They sacrifice time with their children and families — often longer than a year — to serve our country. Many sacrificed their bodies to injuries and wounds sustained on foreign battlefields. Some sacrificed their very lives so that we can enjoy the peace and prosperity we have today.
Some made other, perhaps smaller sacrifices in order to serve our country. While I was in the state Legislature, I passed legislation allowing the state superintendent of education to award diplomas to honorably discharged veterans who left high school to fight in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
It’s easy to forget all the ways these veterans and their families’ sacrificed so that we can enjoy the freedom that we have in this country. And it’s important that we not only remember and honor their sacrifices, but that we also do everything we can to help our veterans who have fallen on hard times.
Recent years have seen serious problems with veterans’ health care across the nation. And, as a direct result of the long wars fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria (among other places), there is a growing problem with veterans committing suicide.
The number of veterans committing suicides has increased in four of the last five years on record, and the suicide rate among veterans jumped by almost 50 percent between 2007 and 2017.
Homelessness is also a problem that has plagued our veterans for many years. While veterans make up just over 7 percent of the overall population in America, they make up nearly 10 percent of the homeless population.
None of these facts even touch on the traditional problems veterans often struggle with, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.
The bottom line is that we need to do a lot more for our veterans than simply set aside a holiday in November. Honoring and remembers those who serve or have served is a great thing to do, and is certainly something we ought to do. But the problems our veterans face require more than just setting aside a holiday.
And now, because of the wars we’ve been fighting for the last 18 years, we have a lot more veterans — especially combat veterans — who need our attention and our efforts.
Solving the problems our veterans face will take leaders at every level working together. It will take leaders in both government and the private sector choosing to make our veterans a priority in order to truly see change.
We need to encourage employers to hire veterans. We need to find the resources to provide and improve health care — especially mental health care — for our veterans. We need to address the affordable housing crisis in this country so that we can find homes for our homeless veterans. And we need to support veterans’ groups like the VFW and others, because ultimately the best way to heal and cope with surviving a traumatic experience (such as war) is to connect with other survivors who can relate to you and help you get through the difficult times.
So as you enjoy your extended weekend, I hope you will take some time to think about and pray for our veterans. Perhaps you might even consider making a donation to a veterans group, or attending a Veterans Day ceremony just to show the veterans that people care. It is good to remember and honor our veterans, but it is better to take action.
Craig Ford represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the state Legislature for 18 years.