Veterans Day is not enough
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President Barack Obama recently announced his plans to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq by year's end. This move will bring the number of deployed U.S. service members to roughly 90,000 -- half of what it was just three years ago.
At VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, we are ready to welcome these heroes home with open arms. The question is ... are you?
Today's veterans lead dual lives. More than any other military generation, the men and women now fighting for our freedoms have served multiple tours. They are oftentimes strangers in their own families. They struggle to find meaning -- and comfort -- after bouncing again and again between two very different worlds.
Due to modern warfare and, in particular, improvised explosive devices, today's veterans have learned to live with their breath held. Sleep with their eyes open. Rest with their muscles tensed.
Today's military volunteers are survivors. The injuries that these men and women are sustaining in combat have claimed many lives throughout history. But, thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, many of our severely wounded service members now return home. The cost of survival is often steep -- and comes in the form of missing limbs, severe burns, a complex cocktail of exceptionally deep battle wounds.
Not all of war's scars are physical either. This is a fact that America's seasoned veterans know all too well. Instead of fighting enemies overseas, some of today's returned service personnel are facing new adversaries -- post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression and addiction -- here at home.
Today's service men and women are also returning to a country in crisis. Unemployment rates are up. Poverty rates are up. Many Americans have closed their shutters to the outside world and are operating in an insular survival mode.
On Veterans Day, many of us peek beyond these shutters. We watch the parades. We dress in festive red, white and blue. And then, just as quickly as we emerge to celebrate the service and sacrifices of veterans, our attention snaps back to the duties of everyday life.
The truth is, one day is not enough. As our veteran population swells to unprecedented proportions -- and our newly returned citizens face unprecedented hurdles in transitioning back to civilian life -- these men and women need our help now more than ever.
Here at VA Pittsburgh, we take great pride in telling veterans "it is our turn to serve." Today, I am asking that our entire community adopt this philosophy and commit -- long term -- to supporting the health and happiness of all veterans.
How you choose to contribute is your call.
If you are lucky enough to be in a position to hire employees, consider hiring a veteran.
If you know a military family, reach out and invite them to your home for dinner.
Look into volunteering for a veterans service organization or a VA hospital. Put your gratitude into words; tell our veterans how much they mean to you and our country. Listen to them. Laugh with them. Give them the benefit of the doubt and, if necessary, a second, third and forth chance.
What if every service member who returned to Pittsburgh heard -- every day, without fail -- a stranger's words of encouragement and gratitude for their service?
What if we as neighbors understood that a family's struggles continue long after their loved one arrives home?
I have just one request to make as you head out to honor our country's veterans this week. Stay. Stay beyond the final flake of confetti dropping. Beyond that last ceremonial bugle call. Do not withdraw into your comfort zone.
Instead, take a long, discomforting look at the uphill battle that many of our brave women and men will now fight here in our homeland. Realize that, as a country, city and community, Veterans Day is not enough. Our heroes need our time. Our words of encouragement. Our patience. Our helping hands.
It is our turn to serve, Pittsburgh ... are you ready?
First Published November 9, 2011 12:00 am