By Meg Whynot-Young
I remember my elementary school assembly for Veterans Day. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Paltrineri, dressed in uniform began his speech, “On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” He spoke of the hour when arms were laid down, and peace began after World War I. This is what we remember and celebrate on Veterans Day.
The eleventh hour had another meaning when I was growing up. “Don’t wait until the eleventh hour to get your homework done,” my mom would say. I was a procrastinator, always waiting until the last minute. I still am.
So much of our appreciation and support of veterans waits until this time, the eleventh hour. We wait until a holiday marks an occasion to say thank you, to acknowledge and honor the sacrifice they have given in service to our country. It is apparent that we can do more. We should do more for our veterans as a nation. Why do we wait then? And when is the last hour for our veterans? Do we know when it becomes too late?
The Department of Veterans Affairs counted 21,973,000 veterans as of 9/30/13. A population survey from the VA of 103,788 veterans active from 2001- 20015 showed that 13% percent were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The unemployment rate among post 9/11 veterans was 9% in 2013 compared to the 2013 non-veteran unemployment rate of 7.2%. 22 veterans commit suicide a day. These statistics are stunning.
Many veterans and their families struggle now with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade. The stress and financial burden is a heavy weight to bear for these families. Particularly for those who have come back wounded, and whose care is now in the hands of their family members.
Here are a few things we can do throughout the year to salute those who have made the sacrifice to serve our country.
1) Take the lead from Starbucks and other companies who are committing to hiring veterans. Find qualified veterans here.
2) Volunteer some time to the Habitat for Humanity’s Veterans Build program. It serves military members, veterans and their families with homeownership, volunteer, and employment opportunities.
3) Those who have suffered a loss through military service need to know that their grief is shared by the nation and that they are not alone. Get to know your military families in the community, through religious programs, and community associations. Having friends in the community is so important for those who are grieving.
4) Donate to programs like Wounded Warrior Project. Wounded Warrior Project serves those who have served and been injured in the line of duty.
5) Wreaths Across America works to ensure that every Veteran buried at VA national cemeteries, and state Veterans’ cemeteries, has a wreath to mark their grave during the holiday season. You can sponsor a wreath, give your time, or simply attend the wreath ceremony closest to you.
Any small action you take can make an impact, but don’t wait until the eleventh hour to notice those around you who are struggling. Make time for those who have given us so much.