It’s Veterans Day, and across the nation there will be ceremonies honoring those who have served and sacrificed in defense of the freedoms that we as Americans hold dear.
All who served in uniform deserve our gratitude. But more than that, they deserve a system that will not forget them when their service has ended.
In some areas, our veterans services still fall short.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that an average of 20 veterans die each day as a result of suicide. In a report released by the VA in 2016, the department used data from 2014 to determine that 18 percent of all suicides by U.S. adults were committed by military veterans, although veterans comprise only 8.5 percent of the country’s population.
Since 2001, the suicide rate among veterans has increased by 32 percent, according to the VA.
After its 2016 report, the VA expanded its 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line, which provides immediate access to mental health crisis intervention and support.
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives took the next step, passing legislation to fund a study to ensure that the hotline is effectively helping veterans, not only during their initial call, but through follow-ups with mental health professionals.
It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a tide the federal government can stem on its own.
Local veteran outreach programs such as McHenry-based TLS Veterans are crucial. They provide housing support and employment assistance, and just as importantly, they provide counseling for veterans in need.
A 2016 report released by the Illinois Veteran Suicide Task Force outlined 11 recommendations for assisting veterans in need.
The recommendations covered a wide range of topics, including training for families and friends to better identify veterans at risk, along with an increased focus on providing educational and professional opportunities for veterans.
Initiatives by President Donald Trump’s administration have been aimed at increasing transparency at the VA, removing ineffective employees, expanding health care choices and increasing job opportunities. In some of these areas there has been progress, but others, such as a plan to make VA records electronic to speed people through the process, will take years to complete.
Still, the focus on improving and increasing the resources available to those who have served our country is encouraging.
Even so, it’s up to us to reach out to veterans and let them know their sacrifice is appreciated and not forgotten.
One Saturday in November isn’t enough to honor those who have served. Let’s work together to give them the respect and help they deserve.