Checking with our buddies on Veterans Day
By National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford
Alexander Hamilton understood. “Justice and humanity forbid the abandoning to want and misery men who have spent their best years in the military service of a country or who in service had contracted infirmities which disqualify them to earn bread in other modes,” the architect of America’s financial system said.
The men and women who have earned the title “veteran” during modern times are a much more diverse group than the continental troops that Hamilton led during the Revolutionary war. But nonetheless, the sentiment is still valid.
The organization that I lead, The American Legion, believes no veteran should be abandoned. We believe veterans have earned the opportunity to thrive. To succeed. To live the American dream. In short, veterans are our nation’s greatest asset.
Veterans Day, November 11, can be traced back to the 1918 armistice which ended World War I. That great moment which was intended to usher in a new era of world peace, also occurred in the middle of a global pandemic.
The veterans of a century ago did not have a state-of-the art health care system to respond to their wounds and ailments. They did not have a GI Bill to help them obtain higher education or home loans. They did not have veterans’ preference laws to help ensure meaningful job opportunities. But they did have a brand new organization of wartime veterans known as The American Legion. It was the advocacy of this group that would help veterans achieve all of these things and much more.
Today’s veterans are hurting once again. Military suicides have increased 20 percent this year. Veteran-owned businesses have closed or struggled immensely during the pandemic-related shutdowns. Instead of returning to the warm embrace of an appreciative nation, veterans feel even more isolated as they come home to a society changed by social distancing and a healthcare system that is at times overwhelmed by the coronavirus.
Patriotic citizens often ask The American Legion about the appropriate way to honor a veteran. The simplest way is to thank one. Flying the American Flag on Veterans Day or donating to a veterans charity are also appreciated gestures. Those in a position to do so should consider hiring veterans, which not only benefits the job-seeker but is often a smart business move.
The American Legion has developed an extensive Buddy Check program, in which we encourage our members to regularly communicate with their fellow veterans. We are simply telling our brothers and sisters-in-arms that we appreciate them and that we are there for them. We offer to help those in need. We listen to their concerns as comrades with a common bond.
Our Buddy Checks have resonated. Both houses of Congress are now considering bipartisan legislation which would raise awareness about suicide prevention among veterans by promoting these peer wellness checks. It would establish a Buddy Check week and direct the secretary of Veterans Affairs to consult with nonprofit organizations, mental health experts and members of the Armed Forces to develop and implement education opportunities on conducting effective and appropriate checks.
So, if you’re looking for another way to honor veterans this Veterans Day, you might want to contact your representative and senators. Ask them to support S. 4657 and H.R. 4290 to enact a federally-backed Buddy Check program.
“Someone in your life needs to hear that they matter. That they are loved. That they have a future. Be the one to tell them.” an Army veteran said this year. Unfortunately the words were the final ones shared by Ronnie McNutt, who live-steamed his suicide on social media.
Did you catch his final plea? “Be the one to tell them.”
That, more than anything else, is the best way to honor a veteran.