Death of Honor

This month is full of celebrations honoring our military. May 1 is Loyalty Day, which started in the 1920s to counter the rise of communism. […] May 8 is V-E Day (Victory-in-Europe Day), which commemorates the end of fighting in Europe during World War II. Military Spouse Day is also on May 8 this year, and it celebrates the silent heroes of our military. Armed Forces Day, created to honor all branches of the service, is on May 16. Lastly, Memorial Day is on May 25, and it’s dedicated to the military men and women who gave their lives for our country.

According to the National World War II Museum, […] World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history, [with 15 million battlefield deaths]. Add to this the 45 million civilian deaths and 60 million people who were lost in this war, and you have the current combined population of California and New York.

In World War I, according to PBS, there were 10 million battlefield deaths and 7 million civilian deaths. In this war, the U.S. mobilized 4.3 million people and lost 126,000. The last surviving American veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, died at the age of 110 on Feb. 27, 2011.

According to the National Archives, 9 million military personnel served during the Vietnam War, and we lost 58,156 Americans. More recently, 650,000 served in the Gulf War from August 1990 to July 1991. Since 2001, between the [wars in] Afghanistan and Iraq, over 2.5 million Americans were deployed, and 6,800 […] died.

Currently, according to The Washington Post, there are 22 million veterans in the United States. Out of these, 92% have at least a high school diploma, and 26% have a bachelor’s degree. Veterans own 9% of all U.S. businesses and employ 5.8 million people.

In theory, Americans have not forgotten about these brave heroes. Since last year, the government has been working on cleaning up the Veterans Affairs’ (VA) hospitals that veterans depend on for help. The VA is working on helping homeless veterans, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, [with the number of veterans spending their nights on the street falling from] 57,849 [one year ago] to 49,933 [today]. [Still], the underlying causes of homelessness—shortage of affordable housing, lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse—remain.

In addition to veteran homelessness, 22 veterans take their own lives every day. Reasons for this could be the difficulties of readjusting to civilian life, lack of civilian work experience and combat injuries. There’s also the added pressure that 90% of military spouses are underemployed and earn 38% less than their civilian counterparts while also being 30% more likely to be unemployed.

Poorly performing VA hospitals, homeless veterans on the streets and veterans who do not want to live—how did we let this happen to the heroes who keep us the freest country [in the world]? Most of our citizens join the military because of their pride for this country. No matter the generation or the war, America’s military has always been determined, tough and proud to do their duty. These fighters are sustained by not only the bonds shared within their units, but [by] the love and strength they draw from those at home—their families, spouses, children, parents and communities. It is time for our communities to step up and help veterans in need.

Besides celebrating our military with these special days in May, we must all do more than just wave the American flag or take the day off and watch the parade. We have to help and embrace our veterans so the transition from military life to civilian life is not as painful. If you own a business, you can make a real effort to hire veterans, [o]r, if you’re not an employer, you can still help by donating to Hire Heroes, a nonprofit dedicated to creating job opportunities for veterans and their spouses. Another great [way] to donate [is through the Welcome Back Veterans initiative], which was created to help returning veterans. One of my personal favorites is Soldiers’ Angels, and you can donate directly on their site.

In 1945, we had 12 million active military personnel, and today, we have 1.4 million (not including active reservists). They are our friends, family and the bravest in our communities. These are men and women who sacrificed everything for us, [so] shouldn’t we do the same for them? If we take care of our service members today, it can only strengthen our military for tomorrow.

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