A Veterans Day Salute
As Holidays Become More Generically Dismissed, Honoring Those Who Serve Should Mean More Than A Day Off
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Hulscher, with the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, salutes the American flag during a Veterans Day ceremony at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image by Capt. Anthony Deiss.
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
Nov. 11, 2011 — Within our modern society and culture, every cause and special interest has found a way to get noticed. Every sickness has a day — or a month. We have holidays that recognize the influence of exceptional leaders and persons of note, no matter how undeserving (I'm looking at you, Columbus).
And we have special days marked on all of our calendars that recognize the groups of people that we, as a culture, have recognized for their merits and contributions to our well-being as Americans — namely, Labor Day and Veterans Day.
But as we celebrate the latter, I am forced to ask if these days are just cop-outs — easy ways to pretend to give a damn about a cause because it is both fashionable and self-serving. We feel like good, contributing members of society because we gave a few bucks and wear a pink ribbon and perch a flag outside of our respective homes, but then we spend the rest of the year ignoring the causes we purportedly support.
Sure, there is no real harm in jumping onto the celebration of Martin Luther King or George Washington or Christopher Columbus just because it makes us feel like we have an educated perspective on history (even though, in most cases, it does just the opposite). And while most of the months dedicated to sickness (cancer, diabetes, etc.) do trivialize the diseases they aim to cure, at least they are gaining money for the cause, right?
But I see Veterans Day differently than these other holidays. While these other celebrations don't do too much tangible and physical harm through their exploitative natures, the effects Veterans Day has on us and the ills it causes many of us to overlook are much more dire. The sheen and glow of the Veterans Day festivities are blinding us.
What we are missing is the sad and shameful fate of many veterans within our society. We are missing the fact that a large contingent of U.S. soldiers are coming home to limited job opportunities and little prospect for the future. With the exception of members of highly-trained combat units and technical support staff, most soldiers and grunts have a hard time translating the skills they learned in the military to benefit them at home in the workforce.
And all of the flag waving, parade throwing, free Applebee's meal giving, and general barbecuing is not going to change that.
We are living through the worst economic climate this country has faced since the Great Depression. According to a recent Gallup Poll, during the 30-day period ending on October 23, unemployment sat at about 8.3 percent without seasonal adjustment. While this number may seem like a godsend given recent history, remember that pre-recession unemployment sat somewhere around 4.5 percent in 2006.
Additionally, according to Gallup, the percentage of workers with part-time employment that are seeking full time employment sat at 9.2 during the same span ending October 23. That puts underemployment numbers at 17.5 percent.
Now consider that, according to Tom Tarantino of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, combat veteran unemployment has consistently sat two percentage points above the national average in 2011.
This is all compounded by the complete troop withdrawal from Iraq that will take place by the end of the year. While this is a definite cause for celebration for those 41,000 troops, their families, and the nation, we have to realize that a large contingent of these returning veterans will be out of work.
Of course, some of these veterans will find reassignment within the military. And others, the previously stated members of skilled combat units, will be able to find work with private contractors and other firms that value combat training and military experience.
However, that still leaves a glut of out of work men and women. If unemployment figures hold true, this means that, optimistically, 2,000 returning veterans will be out of work and looking for a job to support themselves and their families.
Sure, an infusion of 2,000 unemployed workers will have relatively little effect on the job market and unemployment numbers. But those are not the figures we should be focused on.
These are 2,000 men and women that left their lives back at home in order to fight for their country's goals. And now they are left to struggle for survival.
We all feel like we sympathize and fight for veterans because of the charade of November 11. But the truth is, this country does not do shit.
The problems plaguing Veterans Affairs and the veterans healthcare system as a whole have been well documented over the years, specifically in the areas of PTSD treatment and care.
Veterans do receive some support in attaining job skills through higher education, but it is hardly enough. An Iraq War veteran I spoke with who wished to remain anonymous summed the situation up well when he stated that the support is "enough to get through prerequisites at a community college and one semester at a university. It is just enough to convince you to get yourself into debt to finish."
And, according to Tarantino, The Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 is waiting for Harry Reid to bring it to the floor. The act would mandate that veterans be trained with the skills they need to survive in the job market.
But with the atmosphere in Washington, the prospect of any legislation passing, even one with the broad support that THHA has gained, is murky at best. The act has sat in stagnation since July.
The veterans don't need a day; they need real tangible support. It is no wonder veterans like Scott Olsen are joining the Occupy Wall Street movements around the country. Even the people who directly fought to preserve Americans interests are being screwed (and put into critical condition) by the system.
Holidays like Veterans Day almost force us to lose perspective. We are given an off day from work and encouraged to throw a party. The day becomes more about beer and less about the people we are supposed to recognize.
A flag or a T-shirt or a pat on the back is nice, but it does little to actually help the veterans in this country.
They leave home and live in rough, and many times brutal, conditions fighting for the goals of their nation. At the very least, their nation should return the favor.
(Editor’s note: Also read our three-part series on Military Life. Part One Training and Service, Part Two, Pay And Benefits and Part Three, Life After Service.)
Wayne Schutsky is a freelance writer living in Phoenix.