Memorial Day brings images of sacrifice for triumph, pictures of beach landings in Normandy or US Marines standing our flag on Iwo Jima. In both of those examples, thousands, even tens of thousands of young American men faced a battlefield death. That great war was a decisive victory for the nation, veterans returned home proudly to lead the nation forward.
Since World War Two, we’ve engaged in “conflicts”, most of them still ongoing: Korea(ongoing), Vietnam, Afghanistan(ongoing), Iraq(ongoing), and many other military operations that are “classified”, or not acknowledged in the media. Of course those killed in the battles within those conflicts are honored each Memorial Day. But are those who died in a subsequent battle being given the same consideration as your great-grandfather who died in the Battle of Argonne?
They certainly should be but they are not. I can remember young men and women coming home after the first attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They had a hard time re-connecting with family and friends, drank lot of alcohol to numb the mental anguish, and had breakdowns that often had a suicidal theme. Just as the first post-9/11 deployments were returning home from long tours, the Iraq invasion began. The theme of military deployment parties and welcome home parties was a constant in my “Better Days” life from 2003-2012.
Suddenly Wellsville had an entire population of war veterans coming home from conflicts that were increasingly traumatic and never ending. Second, and third deployments to the Middle East are common among the combat vets in Allegany County. They didn’t have to go back and they probably shouldn’t have. For most of those multi-tour heroes, the impact only compounded with each re-enlistment, buildings a mountain of stress and guilt and pain that humans can’t just ‘move-on’ from.
Those wars never ended for many and statistically, about twenty veterans commit suicide each day in the United States by conservative estimates. That number is increasing, and those men and women should be considered casualties of war and remembered as such.
Our communities and Veteran’s Administration were not ready to move warriors back into society and still are not able to handle the mental health crisis at hand. A close source who recently worked for the VA described the situation:
“Most VA services are still extremely slow, long wait times, frustrating from a veterans perspective, and mental health practitioners perspective.”
Until we fully recognize these post-battle losses as what they are, combat-related deaths, we won’t be able to reverse the awful trend of constantly increasing death by suicide among United States combat veterans. Today, the Veterans Administration is still woefully ineffective. Politicians promise to “take care of our veterans.” but the major increases in the VA budget over the last two decades mirror the increases in veteran suicide.
You likely know a veteran who struggles many years after a life-shaping event in a theater of war. That event could be a firefight, it could be a sexual assault, it could be the loss of a battle buddy. We as a nation and a community need to re-invest in veterans and the services we provide to them post-war. Remember those we have lost this Memorial Day but don’t forget those who are still fighting battles in a war that for them, should be over.