Time to really support the troops

Todd A. Stenhouse is a veterans advocate and Sacramento-based public-affairs/nonprofit development consultant; he can be reached at toddstenhouse@comcast.net

Most agree that our nation’s veterans deserve to be above politics, but I wonder if our elected leaders, activists and the press have the willingness to get beyond politics.

On October 29, California veterans, families and supporters united for a nonpartisan march and rally to support veterans’ benefits, including improved readjustment services, better outreach and elimination of the stigmas and the other barriers to care that often create more casualties than war itself.

As the event concluded, I wondered: Where were all the politicians, reporters, and pro- and anti-war advocates who so frequently come out in large numbers to “support the troops”?

Many reporters were busy that day at a different rally at the Capitol, giving those who fought with police officers their 15 minutes of fame—which says a lot. I’m not sure where everyone else was, but I would call on them to stand up and speak out on the issue of veterans’ aftercare, an issue that transcends politics and that, incidentally, is also a question of saving lives.

Ask the 2,000-plus men and women who have died in Iraq, the 430,000 who have already come home and the nearly 59,000 killed in Vietnam what was more important: the politics of war or the well-being of their fellow service members?

Millions of war casualties walk among us every day, struggling with depression, homelessness, and drug and alcohol abuse. Some are in jail, thousands are watching the emotional scars of war tear apart their families, and still others are enduring as their bodies deteriorate from chemical agents.

In 1781, George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” His message was clear. The security of our homeland is tied to the security of those who defend us. There is no national security without veterans’ security.

Even though Veterans Day has passed, I want to personally thank all veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice for our country. Words cannot do justice to the gratitude that every American owes you. To all citizens, no matter what they think of the war, please remember that “supporting the troops” is as much about what happens after deployment as what happens during deployment.