Americans gather on Memorial Day to pay homage to our men and women who died while serving in the United States armed forces, honoring their sacrifice and courage, and recalling the selflessness that embodies military service.
Not all, but many service members return from duty stations around the globe with visible and invisible wounds, tragic hallmarks of armed conflict, while still others return draped by the American flag. Words fall short when expressing our gratitude to their grieving families, but we can stand with them, honoring their sacrifice and loss.
A major way to honor the sacrifice and loss of the fallen is to care for their surviving comrades. I am indescribably proud of the employees and volunteers at the VA Maryland Health Care System and the service they provide to Veterans of all war eras, including this newest Veteran community.
Upon their return, this newest generation of Veterans must battle misperceptions about their military service and stigmas about getting treatment for the residual aftereffects of war. These misconceptions and stigmas often interfere with their smooth transition to civilian life, but family and friends can help influence the Veterans to get the treatment and services they need. Let them know that you are available to assist; help them access mental health services, if needed; learn and share the facts about mental health issues, especially when hearing something that is false; treat them with respect just as you would anyone else; and refuse to define them by their diagnosis or using demeaning labels like “crazy.” Having a mental health condition does not automatically mean that a person is violent or unstable. Mental health conditions can be treated, and many Veterans recover successfully, moving forward with productive and happy lives. Veterans often demonstrate how gritty determination equals resilience and success.
Throughout history, the task of defending high ideals like life and liberty has fallen to ordinary men and women of extraordinary courage and fortitude. They are our neighbors, friends and family members. Their perseverance and loyalty to a higher calling is central to what and whom we honor each Memorial Day. Let’s remember those who have fallen and the immeasurable good for which they have laid down their lives. And let’s remember our wounded warriors of every age who continue on, despite the loss of their brothers and sisters in arms.
Educating our youngsters about the price that has been and continues to be paid for their freedom is another way to honor our nation’s heroes. Volunteering at a local VA Maryland Health Care System facility is a good way to start. Contact the Voluntary Service office for the VA Maryland Health Care System at 800-463-6295, ext. 7100 to get started today.
Dennis H. Smith
VA Maryland Health Care System