Tonawanda News

November 13, 2013

DUVALL: On Veterans Day, a chance to examine our support

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — On the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month all their sacrifices were finally realized.

Veterans Day, the day we set aside to honor the sacrifices large, small and ultimate, of the men and women who have fought to sustain this country.

So there is no better day to take a critical eye toward how we honor them — and the ways in which we don’t, but should.

Supporting our troops means much more than slapping a trite bumper sticker on your car. It should be a sacred duty. And yet we live in a political environment where we can barely keep the lights on sometimes, so it might go without saying sometimes we fail in that duty.

Are we effectively healing their wounds? In a literal sense, veterans hospitals are generally excellent medical facilities and the veterans health insurance plan gets higher marks for patient care and satisfaction than other portions of the health care industry. This is good.

We have finally turned a corner on treating the not-so-literal but just as painful wounds inflicted on combat veterans who have seen friends die and known a type of fear those of us in civilian life only see on television and in the movies. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious thing and for too long it was written off to insufficient machismo. 

Still, thousands of discharged soldiers suffer in silence, deal with sleepless nights or turn to booze, drugs and pills to keep the demons at bay. Better support for these men is necessary and the military itself has a long way to go in creating the kind of environment where asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.

There is the outrage of unreported sexual assaults on female enlistees. A recent “60 Minutes” report underscored the absurd disregard paid by the old boys club that is military brass to the plight of women seeking to serve our country. Signing up for service shouldn’t mean signing up for harassment or getting raped. And when it does happen, the military should take the matter as seriously as a civilian police force would, with full investigations and appropriate sentences for those convicted of the crime.

Then there is the matter of returning to civilian life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan between the ages of 18 and 24 have a stunning unemployment rate of 29.1 percent. We owe these young people better. They signed away the years most of us spend carousing with friends and learning who we are. The very least we can do when they come home — no, if they come home — is help them find a job.

In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel would be well served to call up his old boss, President Barack Obama, and tell him about what that city is doing to address the problem. Emanuel has created a fund leveraging both public and private money to offer every military veteran in Chicago a $1,000 yearly scholarship to one of the city’s seven colleges. He has ordered those colleges to accept military training be honored with college credits so veterans don’t have to waste time and money to prove they’ve got skills anyone can plainly see they’ve already mastered. And he has ordered each of the city’s colleges to create veteran resource centers to assist in obtaining financial aid and job placement.

This can be replicated on a national level — or at least a local one. Which elected official in Western New York will come forward and replicate this model for the former servicemen here?

Supporting the troops with a ribbon on the back of your car is fine. It’s a nice gesture. But if you really want to help them, call your congressman. Call your state legislators. Call the mayor and the Erie County executive. 

Remind them on this day more than any other, but on every other day too, we made a promise to these people and it’s our duty to keep it.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.