Recommit to support veterans

Parades, free meals and organized ceremonies took place Friday as Iowans observed Veterans Day. That leaves this day, the actual date of Veterans Day, open for personal reflection and recommitment to those who wore the boots.

Since 1775, nearly 1.4 million military members have died in war and conflicts. More than 40 million men and women have served in the armed forces during war; millions more during peacetime.

Men and women have served on bases and in conflicts around the globe, including in Afghanistan for the past 16 years. They’ve served regardless of current events or political sentiment — although all returning have been subject to the whims of a society shaped by these factors.

Within that context, the pomp and circumstance of Veterans Day is important and inadequate. Pausing one or two times each year to recognize the sacrifices made by military veterans and their families is not enough.

Residents of Fairfield construct an avenue of flags around the town square in honor of Veterans Day.
Residents of Fairfield construct an avenue of flags around the town square in honor of Veterans Day. (Fairfield Ledger)

We must commit to ensuring our state not only honors the contributions of veterans through these occasional celebrations, but by dedicating the resources needed to support them during and after their military service.

Programs like Home Base Iowa, which help service members transition, are a vital part of that commitment. The HBI program combines the knowledge and power of several state agencies, more than 40 communities and 20 colleges and universities, and nearly 1,500 Iowa businesses to connect veterans in our state with employment opportunities and related services. Employment, however, is only one aspect of the support our veterans need and have already earned.

State officials must do more to bolster Iowa’s lackluster community-based behavioral health services, including investments in local hotlines that connect residents to caregivers and other nonprofit support systems. Geography should not determine whether a veteran in crisis receives help, or if a military family can access support. We could all benefit from reduction of the stigma associated with seeking help for behavioral illnesses.

Housing costs throughout the Hawkeye State must be better aligned with local wages, or local wages must be bolstered to encompass rising housing costs. Veterans, especially, should never be strapped with the burden of being “working poor,” much less left to exist on the streets. Coordinated efforts at the federal, state and local levels by the nonprofit, private and government sectors have resulted in fewer homeless and near-homeless veterans, but demand for affordable housing and rollbacks of public investment are threatening that progress.

When current members of our military deploy, they should have assurance that their community is watching over and supporting the family members they’ve left behind.

Parades, community ceremonies and free lunches are goodwill gestures that help raise awareness about our veterans and their sacrifice, but these good-intentioned actions only repay the interest on the debt society owes. Only by working each day throughout the year will we begin to address the principle of that debt.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Nov. 11, 2017. Photo credit: Fairfield Ledger