It’s November 11 and, of course, that means it’s Veterans Day. It’s a day we’ve set aside to honor all the men and women who have served, and are still serving, in our armed forces. The history of this holiday dates back to 1918 and the end of one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever seen: World War I. That war took the lives of 9 million combatants, including over 116,000 Americans; an impressive total considering we were involved in the war about a year and a half. The significance of this day is that it marks the end of hostilities in that contest; on November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed in a railroad car in Compiègne, France. On a side note, it was in that same car that Hitler demanded (and received) the surrender of French forces in 1940. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11 Armistice Day to commemorate the end of what he called the “war to end all wars” and honor those who served in that bloody fray. It’s no stretch to say Wilson was overly optimistic and war continued to be the scourge it’s always been. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day to honor all veterans, not just those of World War I.
I tell you all this as background, so you’ll know why we celebrate Veterans Day and maybe add a little weight to it. You see, while we may have set aside a day to honor veterans with parades, free meals and the like, we don’t do much for them the rest of the year. We’re great at saying “thank you for your service” when we meet a vet, but no so much at taking care of them. On any given night, as many as 62,000 veterans sleep outside and, though they account for only 7% of the total population, 13% of people experiencing homelessness are veterans. The expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act means that SNAP benefits have been cut and 900,000 vets live in homes that receive those benefits. If the farm bill under consideration in the House of Representatives passes, those benefits will receive additional cuts . If that’s not enough, 22 veterans take their own life every day because mental health issues go untreated due to backlogs at the VA. This is honoring veterans?
The American attitude toward our veterans is nothing new. The travails of the Bonus Army stand as a witness to the way we take care of our veterans. And, there are plenty of stories about signs saying “Dogs and sailors (or soldiers), keep off the grass”. It’s not an American phenomenon, either. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, Tommy, relates problems faced by veterans, which are summed up with the lines:
“O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.
We need to stop talking about supporting our veterans and start actually supporting them. As long as men and women who sacrificed a part of the lives to protect their country live outdoors, don’t have enough to eat, suffer from untreated mental illness, etc, our words don’t mean a thing.