History seems to close up behind us as we move forward in our particular bubble of the present and immediate past. The Memorial Day celebrations I attended this year started me thinking about how few World War II veterans are still with us. Reading Senator Frank Lautenberg’s obituary a week after Memorial Day gave me a chance to see his long journey from serving in the Army Signal Corps during WWII to serving three terms as Senator before he retired. Except he didn’t really retire. He ran again and was re-elected. He was still serving at the time of his death.
You don’t have to look far to see other examples of veterans in public service. Senators Max Cleland and John McCain, both Vietnam veterans, come instantly to mind. And that’s just the political scene. What about business, science, medicine, the arts?
Our nation has a vast pool of talent in its veterans. In 1946 when Lautenberg got out of the Army and used the GI Bill to go to college, no one could have foreseen the kind of contributions he’d make to society. The same can be said of Cleland and McCain and the countless other veterans who make this country work in a myriad of ways.
Knowing this, doesn’t it make sense to treat that pool of talent like the resource we know it is? We’ve seen how the Greatest Generation went to college on the GI Bill and bought their family homes using the VA’s Home Loan Program. They’re proof that investing in veterans is a good bet. But I wonder how much of their talent we squandered because we didn’t understand the physical and psychological effects of the horrors of war. So many WWII vets suffered alone, in silence. We still get calls on our crisis hotline from them. That’s over 65 years ago. In a sense, we failed them and many vets from the wars in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.
It’s true that we offer the same benefits to today’s vets that we did to those from WWII. But knowing what we now understand about PTSD, TBI and other invisible traumas, we should take the steps necessary to make sure veterans get the treatment they need. We need to make up for what we missed in our WWII vets.
It seems peculiarly shortsighted not to make the full investment in these men and women who are our future. Whatever they need -- medical care, counseling, training, jobs, education -- it just makes sense to provide what they need to develop themselves, to heal.
Community-based veterans organizations and non-profits like the National Veterans Foundation can play a large part. But the real power is in the hands of citizens like you. Consider the future. Contact your government representatives. Urge them to demand that we safeguard the human capital that resides in our veterans by providing the kind of care and support they need to fully heal.