Expressing our appreciation to veterans for their service in protecting our country is certainly appropriate each year.
It’s also fitting that we commemorate their indispensable value to our society with public ceremonies. In a first for the United Way Veterans Council, President Donald Trump will deliver an address Monday during the 100th annual New York City Veterans Day Parade.
Mr. Trump will be accompanied by Gen. David H. Berger, 38th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. According to council officials, no previous commander in chief has accepted the group’s invitation to participate in the event.
“On behalf of all the men and women who have served our nation and who continue to serve, the United War Veterans Council is honored that our commander in chief, President Donald J. Trump, has agreed to join our 100th annual tribute,” Doug McGowan, chairman of the United War Veterans Council board, said in a news release issued Wednesday by the White House. “This is a day when we put politics aside to focus on honoring our veterans and to re-commit ourselves as a community to providing them with the services they have earned, the services they deserve and, for many, the services they were denied. We thank and commend President Trump for leading that effort on this centennial, and we acknowledge his historic support for our activities here in New York City.”
It is good that Mr. Trump will attend the ceremony and join the many others who will pay tribute to veterans. This holiday has been created to do just this, and we hope people from throughout Northern New York will find ways to add their voices to the national chorus of humble gratitude.
But while they are sincere acknowledgements of all that veterans have done for us, such events are not nearly enough. We must not be content to thank them for their countless sacrifices and be done with it.
Many of the men and women who have served our nation in uniform continue to struggle to obtain the health care they deserve. While the agency has made some progress over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs still experiences problems in treating veterans adequately.
It’s also our obligation to confront the sobering truths about what many veterans are enduring due to their time in combat. These statistics are widely available, but some of us avoid contemplating the disturbing reality they conjure.
According to information from icasualties.org, 4,575 U.S. citizens died in Afghanistan between 2001 and this year. In addition, 2,438 Americans were killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2019. The total number of U.S. deaths from both wars to date is 7,013.
Compare this with the number of veterans who have taken their own lives during a similar period of time. According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report issued by the VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, 78,875 veterans have killed themselves between 2005 and 2017 — more than 10 times the number of Americans who have so far died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Our debt to veterans extends far beyond public commendations. These events are fitting displays of gratitude, and we should continue holding them.
But they alone do not suffice. Veterans must have access to treatment programs that will help them heal emotionally as well as physically. This will happen only when we hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire to provide what was promised to our service personnel — not merely on Veterans Day but year-round.