Last Tuesday I celebrated when I heard Secretary Salazar of the Department of Interior (DOI) announce that all active duty service members and their families would be allowed to use public lands absolutely free of charge. The DOI estimates this to be a $2 to $6 million investment for our Armed Forces.
I know this does not fix the VA or keep retirees' medical costs below market costs, but it's a significant gesture of thanks and gratitude in a very public and meaningful way that is unique to the DOI and other participating public land management institutions -- which include the Department of Agriculture and the Army Corps of Engineers, also part of the program. Our government is saying, "You defended the land -- now go use it!" The benefits, I think you'll find, are fantastic.
Yet, some of the conversations I have been a part of in person or via social networking in the last week have been incredibly negative toward the DOI's effort. Why? These negative comments are frustrating in the same way that they echo the sotto voce mumbles of some naysayers when they hear who I work for and wonder how we can effectively work with service members, veterans, and their families.
We veterans have made very public our frustrations with coming home to a country that does not understand us, that asks us ignorant questions, and does not do a good job welcoming us home. So when an organization, any organization, reaches its hand out to returning service members and their families to get to know us, should we return the favor, or act as others in our country have acted toward us? Doing something does not always amount to doing the right thing, but a recognition of the many organizations in America that are trying to support our veterans should not be difficult for any of us.
When the DOI extends a sincere thank you that lowers the barrier to outside activity, creates an opportunity for our active duty brothers and sisters and their families to get outside and reap the benefits of our vast outdoor resources, should we say thank you, or use it as an opportunity to point out that a separate agency is failing? The DOI cannot fix the VA, but it can provide us with some amazing resources and do their part to welcome us home. What more do you want that the DOI can give?
I believe our country has an obligation to follow through on the promises and benefits made to our troops. I recognize that as a nation, we are not yet meeting the mark on that across the board, but I also wonder if we as veterans are, at times, not holding up our end of the bargain. When we do not recognize the sacrifices made by America on our behalf or refuse teaching opportunities to help redirect well-intentioned but misguided support, are we creating more of a problem?
Should we remain constantly fixated on what is wrong and what we do not have, or can we shift our attitudes to be thankful for what we have been given and use that to build toward a better future while also working to address other wrongs and oversights?
It will take all segments of society, every corner of community to make it right with the veteran community, because we came from every corner. So when one group steps up and does the right thing, we need to step up next to those trying to help out and stand with them, use the benefit, use the resource to help all of us come on home, pay it forward, and encourage the rest of our community to step up with us.