Again and again, speakers at a Veterans Day ceremony Monday, Nov. 11, in Beaverton thanked the audience that filled Bethel Congregational United Church for being there.
"Veterans Day is a really powerful tradition, and I'm proud to see us all recognize it, taking an hour and a half out of our day to remember those who have given us our great country and all that comes with it," said Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle.
"I'm so pleased to see the veterans here, and I'm so pleased to see the rest of you here to honor veterans," said Steve Gerber, commander of American Legion Post 124 in Beaverton, which organizes the annual commemoration of Veterans Day. "Post 124 is proud to have had you here for our Veterans Day event."
But there was a recurring theme throughout the program, which speakers like Beaverton City Councilor Lacey Beaty, Disabled American Veterans state adjutant and treasurer Wanda Janus, and VA Portland Health System director Darwin Goodspeed, among others, brought up again and again.
Veterans deserve to be recognized, speakers said — and in that regard, it's welcome that there has been a dramatic cultural shift from the days of the Korean and Vietnam wars, when returning veterans were often shunned or denigrated for their service, to a time during conflicts in the Middle East, South Asia and West Africa when returning veterans are celebrated and honored. But they said that more than anything, veterans want to feel like they have a life and a purpose beyond their tours of duty — especially when they come back less than whole.
Veterans live with injuries both visible and invisible
The theme of disabled veterans, or "wounded warriors," was brought up again and again.
Beaty, who served as a combat medic in Iraq in 2004, said that even though she's physically active and has carved out a career in local politics — she's publicly considering running against Doyle in next year's mayoral election — she suffered a traumatic brain injury during her service and is considered a disabled veteran.
"I don't often refer to myself as a disabled veteran," said Beaty. "I mean, I run Spartan races, I hold elected office — but I'm not even unique. Look at Senator Tammy Duckworth, or the late Senator (John) McCain, who found a way to contribute back to their community despite the label that would have sidelined most people."
Still, she noted, many of the men and women who return home carry "invisible" injuries, whether they're physical wounds like brain damage or psychological trauma that can lead to major depression, substance addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of mental illness.
View a slideshow of photos taken by photographer Christopher Oertell on Nov. 11, 2019, at the ceremony.
The program's keynote speaker, Master Sgt. Robert "Brandon" Bertilson, said awareness of those "invisible" injuries has increased.
Having served multiple tours of duty overseas, Bertilson is very aware of how military service affects a person psychologically. Whether they see combat or not, Bertilson pointed out, soldiers are trained to lay down their lives for their country and to take lives for their country as well.
"You're not going to be the same person coming back," Bertilson said.
Goodspeed, who spent more than 20 years in the Navy and now works to assist veterans at the Portland VA, noted the ongoing needs of those who served.
"Long after the guns fall silent, the cost of freedom continues to be paid," Goodspeed said. "At the Department of Veterans Affairs, every day is Veterans Day. … They deserve our best efforts in all that we do for their service and sacrifice."
Important for veterans to feel like they still matter
Awareness and treatment of trauma and stress among military veterans is important, speakers said, but it's important as well to not condescend to veterans or treat them like they're not able. Although they're legally considered disabled veterans, Beaty and Janus said, they are still able to contribute in their community — and although they're no longer in uniform, they are still able to make a difference in the world.
"Every day that I served, I had a clear message that my life and work mattered," Beaty said. "What no one tells you when you get ready to leave the service is how incredibly lonely it can be — how you feel like, sometimes, that purpose was taken away from you overnight."
She added, "Supporting veterans, though, needs to look different than we often think it should. … What most modern veterans need today is a way to feel like their lives matter — that it doesn't matter what label they have, they have a way to contribute and feel useful again."
"The most important thing is to treat us as you would treat anyone else without a disability," Janus said. "Include us. Talk to us. Be willing to help when we ask, and we'll let you know if we need it and what we need. But don't assume that we don't want to join you because of our disability."
Bertilson echoed those points.
"What soldiers need and what veterans need is having a sense of purpose — to feel like they are important again, like they're not damaged," Bertilson said. "That's what I would really like the message to be is we can still help veterans, because veterans are beneficial to our society. We need them. They're not damaged. They can help us. And so the best thing to do for those veterans is not just say that they're damaged, but help them have that sense of purpose again."
By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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