Veterans recognize that all service members gave some, some gave all. As Memorial Day approaches I think about not only those who died honorably on the field of battle, but also those whose death was sealed in battle but occurred years later. We should remember the these warriors during our ceremonies and activities.
It is important for citizens to honor those who died establishing and defending freedom. Those who die on the battlefield are treated like the heroes they are. They receive honor guards, special memorial services and words of appreciation for their sacrifice. Their names on our monuments and honor rolls are set apart by stars. Their families proudly display gold star banners. Recognizing the contributions of those who died in battle is appropriate. It is equally appropriate to remember delayed combat deaths and value those warriors as those who died on the battlefield.
Our attention is frequently focused on the current crop of casualties and veterans from current conflicts. We neglect the heroics and service of those who die later from service connected afflictions. They receive no Purple Heart. Their families receive no gold stars. Their names not set apart on our monuments, but their deaths are combat deaths. However former GIs dying from cancer from exposure to toxic chemicals during battle or by his own hand years later because of untreated post-traumatic stress deserves the same remembrance and honor as those who died charging Redoubts 9 & 10 in Yorktown, attempting to block the British attack in New Orleans, had the courage to fight against his brother in our Civil War, stepped on a land mine in Korea, ambushed in Vietnam, or died fighting any of the little known conflicts fought during American history.
Remembering is important. Many professionals providing care for veterans of past wars know only of what they learned in a history class. Young people entering the health care system as providers in the next several years will have been born after the instigating events for our current conflict in Afghanistan or are so young they have no independent memories of planes crashing into buildings. Teaching providers about health issues related to military service will be important to ensure care received will address the sources of the issues and not just the symptoms. Additionally, many of these former GIs may qualify for VA care and to have their ailments service connected permitting them to access VA’s health care (which, regardless of current allegations, is high quality). Without an understanding of Agent Orange, asbestos, mental health issues, embedded fragments of shrapnel, and other combat related mechanisms of injuries dooms veterans in both the civilian and VA health systems to potential inadequate care.
During your remembrances this Memorial Day, take time to remember all those who died as a result of armed conflict with our nation’s enemies. Remember those who died on the battlefield, and those who died later from hidden wounds. Honor their memories by not only thanking a veteran for his or her service but by also taking the time to listen to their stories of the great deeds of the fallen. You can never remember what you never knew. Adopt a family of a fallen warrior. Their stories are equally compelling. Veterans will tell you families have the toughest job in war. During your freedom celebration, establish a quiet moment for all to quietly reflect on their blessings as a result of others standing before evil.
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