Beyond Thanking Them for Their Service: What We Owe Veterans
Yesterday was Veteran’s Day, the federal holiday set aside for honoring those who have served in the U.S. Armed forces. Speeches were made, wreaths were placed on countless graves, and many Americans looked up from their busy lives long enough to feel and perhaps even express heartfelt thanks to veterans they have known. But surely our obligation to those who have sacrificed so much extends beyond the sentimental gestures of yesterday’s holiday. What do we owe soldiers and veterans every day?
First, we are obligated to go beyond gestures of thanks to support policies that provide the necessary resources for physical and mental healing and full reintegration into society. Statistics on homelessness and suicide indicate that we are failing to meet this obligation:
- According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans analysis of data from the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs 2012 annual report on homelessness, on any given night nearly 63,000 veterans are homeless, and about twice that number are homeless for part of the year. An additional 1.4 million veterans are in danger of homelessness because of poverty, lack of support networks, and substandard housing. Although this represents a decline from previous years, it is still a significantly higher homelessness rate than the overall population.
- In 2012, suicides among active duty soldiers reached a record high of 349. Perhaps even more shockingly, a Veteran’s Administration study released this year showed that a staggering 22 veterans a day commit suicide, and there is reason to believe that number is an underestimation.
More fundamentally, as citizens in a representative democracy, we are obliged to do everything in our power to make sure that our troops are only deployed in situations that are morally and practically justifiable. It is beyond the scope of this short blog post to develop an argument about the moral criteria and practical rationale for deploying troops, and assess whether our recent wars have met them. I simply want to assert that as citizens we can and should distinguish between unwavering support for the sacrifice of our soldiers, and a critical evaluation of the objectives they are dispatched to pursue. The impulse to express our admiration and full support for those who sacrifice so much for our country is understandable. But if as citizens we fail to engage fully in the messy political process of determining when and where the use of our military force is justified, we run the risk of betraying those soldiers we claim to support.
Now that another Veteran’s Day has passed, we should resolve not only to remember and thank our veterans, but as fully engaged citizens to advocate for policies that support them, and demand that they are only deployed for morally justifiable reasons.