t’s an honor today as we recognize our veterans, a group of people who risked their health and well-being to provide us with the freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis. 

Nearly 70 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson declared Nov. 11 be called Armistice Day. The day was to be set aside to recognize the heroism of those who fought in World War I. Later, President Dwight Eisenhower, who many historians believe was prouder of his military service than the title of president, declared the day be called Veterans Day to recognize all of the men and women who have served in our military. 

Today, fewer than 10 percent of Americans can claim the title “veteran,” and far less than 1 percent of our population is currently defending us in the Global War on Terrorism. This is not a title to be taken lightly. 

Veterans have endured hardships that many of us will never face in our lifetime. They have traveled to hostile areas of the world to freeze in sub-zero temperatures or swelter in strange jungles. They have had to miss important milestones during long separations from their families and many have sustained life-altering injuries that require years of recovery. 

However, some veterans will say that the hardest part of their service occurs when they return home from war. In addition to any physical wounds inflicted by combat, a number of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and report feeling disconnected and misunderstood after living with such a close-knit group during their service. Others have trouble attaining jobs, housing, healthcare or feeling as if they belong in their community. 

These feelings take a toll.  For many, the alienation they feel upon returning home proves too much. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 18 veterans commit suicide every day.

Bryan Wood, a combat veteran and author of the book “Unspoken Abandonment,” speaks openly about how difficult it is for veterans to return home while their mind still functions as if it’s facing the danger of a war zone. He says:

“Many soldiers will never reach out for help because, after all, it’s the soldier’s mentality for self-reliance that kept him alive in combat, and it is that same mindset that will all too often keep him suffering in silence long after the war has ended.”

He goes on to urge people to make an effort to understand what veterans have experienced and ask them how they’re feeling. 

I would be amiss to not also mention the sacrifice of our veterans’ families. They, too, have given a great deal to our country by supporting their family member’s efforts to serve in the military. They, more than anyone, know the sadness of saying goodbye and the joy of the return. They witness firsthand the hardships our veterans face as they attempt to adjust to life after their service. 

This isn’t the feel-good message that many people will hear today, but I believe it is important that we understand not only what our veterans went through, but the difficult memories they acquire during service and their struggle to achieve a sense of normalcy after they return. 

Many of you know a veteran, are related to a veteran, or may be a veteran yourself. We have a special responsibility to care for and honor these individuals in our community in the same way they honored us through their selfless service to our country.

Michael Mullen, a former United States Navy admiral who served as the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “If you listen closely to the voices of our veterans, you understand that yes, they all returned from war changed, but what never changed is this: They never forgot your generosity. They never forgot the power of opportunity. They never forgot the American dream. 

“I am convinced that America’s great sea of goodwill can be, in fact, a rising tide, a tide that could lift every veteran and every family of our wounded and fallen.”

Today I share that sentiment.

I hope that we will all remember to treat our veterans with the respect they deserve and take care of them now in the same way they have taken care of us in the past. 

Love on our veterans and love on their families. Our respect and kindness towards them deserves so much more than just one day. And God bless America.

JEFF HALE  is State Representative for District 24. He lives in Nesbit.

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