My View: Our veterans deserve more than parades
Saturday is Veterans Day.
Since 1938, the men and women of the United States military have been involved in more than 100 military actions. Some violent, some peaceful, but in every case, men and women have been asked to answer their country's call. And in every case, they did.
We've all heard about Guadalcanal, Normandy, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. We do a good job of remembering the big names and the big victories. But how many people remember Peleliu, Kasserine and Monte Cassino? And those are just from the "good war," the war where our motives and our enemies were clear. After 1945, while our country's foreign policy motives and objectives may have become murkier, that didn't mean that our nation's veterans were any less valiant in answering the call. They still did in China, Korea, Vietnam and Egypt. And then in Lebanon, Thailand, Laos and the Congo. Cambodia, Cyprus, Zaire and Iran. El Salvador, Grenada, Honduras and Chad. The list goes on, and on and on . . .
Through it all, American men and women went where they were asked and did what they were asked to do.
And on Veterans Day, we are asked to remember their service and their sacrifice. We attend parades, we visit cemeteries and we remember this country's veterans.
But it's not enough. We need to do more than remember. As of 2011, one out of three Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or a combination thereof.
And the Department of Veterans Affairs released findings this year that the risk for suicide in veterans was 22 percent higher than for non-veteran adults in the United States.
Remembering is not enough. We, as a country, need to do more. This is not a Republican issue, nor a Democratic issue. It is an American issue. When these men and women answered their country's call, they didn't do so based upon party affiliation. Since 1973, they have all volunteered to do so.
And when it comes to partisanship, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel found that younger veterans tend to be less partisan than the rest of the population. Sixty percent of veterans under the age of 50 identify themselves as independents or otherwise not affiliated with the two major political parties.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that on any given night, nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless. Here in Multnomah County, a point in time count of the homeless population found 446 homeless veterans — 24 more than in 2015.
When it comes to health care, the Rand Corporation estimated this year that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of uninsured nonelderly veterans and increase demand for VA health care.
Our country has ceased to fight in wars that are defined by enemies who are easily identifiable, much less enemies who are clearly associated with particular countries. We no longer see an increase in active duty personnel to combat the latest threat, only to reduce that number once the threat has been neutralized. Instead, we have entered a time of permawar: a time when at least some of us are at constant war. Perhaps not congressionally sanctioned war, but war nonetheless. And in this time of permawar, we, as a country, still do what we have always done: we ask our men and women of the military to answer the call.
And despite this state of permawar, we seem to continually struggle with how to meet the needs of our country's veterans.
It's going to take more than parades. It's going to take more than remembrance. It's going to require action. It's going to require your state and federal congressional representatives to take action. It doesn't matter whether you are a Republican or a Democrat; it only matters that you are an American.
And if you think the challenge can't be met and the problems facing the veteran population can't be solved, consider that in 2011, New Orleans became the first city to actually house every homeless veteran, and did so in year nine of a 10-year-plan.
In Los Angeles, the Women Veterans Collaborative ensures that women who served their country have access to the services they need.
In New Mexico, veterans are getting faster health care as new programs expand to rural areas and providers take advantage of advances in "telemedicine."
In Boston, a nonprofit helps veterans navigate the legal system and in several jurisdictions, special 'veterans courts' have been set up where prosecutors, defense attorneys and representatives of the VA look at treatment as well as punishment for those facing criminal charges.
It's time we gave our country's veterans what they have given us — and that means more than parades.
Saturday is Veterans Day. What are you going to do?
800 Words is an occasional column written by Vance W. Tong, managing editor of the Portland Tribune.