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Remembering the fallen; Honoring those who served

May 21, 2014

On Monday, Memorial Day, people across America will pause to remember the men and women who died while serving in our armed forces. Locally, many of our towns will hold parades to pay tribute not only to the fallen, but also to honor those living who have served our country.

These days, if the news reports are as bad as they sound (numerous investigations are yet to be completed), the Veterans Administration (VA), which is tasked with serving our veterans, is in need of serious repair. You’ve heard the news—veterans reportedly dying while waiting for health care. News reports allege dishonesty and cover-up on the part of VA employees who phonied the figures to make VA hospitals look like they were seeing patients in a timely manner (as required) when they were not. Like everyone else hearing these shocking stories, we require answers about what happened and why, and we demand resolution of the problems so other veterans’ lives are not so cavalierly put at risk.

The real scandal, however, is that we hardly ever treat our veterans as well as they deserve. Last year, nearly 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were either homeless or in a federal program designed to help keep them from becoming homeless. Of the 2.3 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars an estimated 14 to 20% suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or severe depression, and some estimates are higher. An estimated 50% of these do not seek treatment, and of those who do, about half do not receive adequate treatment. Another 19% are estimated to suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), from receiving head injuries; even a hit on the head or blast waves from explosions can cause lasting brain injury. (Seven percent of vets from these wars reportedly have both PTSD and TBI.) In addition, according to statistics, 39% of returning service members abuse alcohol and 3% reportedly abuse drugs. These figures don’t even include the Gulf War or older conflicts, going all the way back to WWII. Lastly, we come to suicide, which in 2013 the Department of Veterans Affairs conceded was “epidemic,” claiming more lives than combat (