Veterans have willingly served our country, fully accepting that they could be called away from family and loved ones and into harm’s way at any time to defend our country and our way of life.

On Veterans Day, we will honor our veterans with words of praise, thank yous and a ceremony on the corner of Fort and Main streets. While a thank you is important and the events are a heartfelt way to show our thanks, a day of observance seems insufficient for their service and sacrifice.

Congress would be better off figuring out a way to better pay service members and to provide better, more accessible care for veterans’ physical and mental health needs. We can and should do more.

Veterans’ sacrifices often don’t end when they come home. Stepping on U.S. soil doesn’t erase their experiences. In some cases, the biggest battle comes when they must reintegrate into civilian life.

This is one area where we must do a better job of helping our veterans.

The sad reality is that an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day in 2014. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported that in 2017, the suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times the rate for non-veteran adults.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also found that the number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder varies by service era, but 10 to 20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year.

The report and an accompanying statement by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie emphasized that the veteran suicide crisis went beyond the VA’s capacity to address it, and must be targeted in a coordinated approach with local, state and private partners.

“VA is working to prevent suicide among all veterans, whether they are enrolled in VA health care or not,” Wilkie said. “That’s why the department has adopted a comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention, using bundled strategies that cut across various sectors – faith communities, employers, schools and health care organizations, for example – to reach veterans where they live and thrive.”

The new approach is meant “to reach all veterans, even those who do not and may never come to us for care,” Wilkie said.

On the national level, services for veterans must be a budget priority, and we should focus on updating and reforming the Veterans Administration to ensure our veterans easy access to quality care.

Locally, there are tens of ways to show your gratitude to veterans. Many local veterans receive medical care in at the Sheridan VA; offer a veteran a ride to his or her appointment. Eat a meal with a veteran at the Veterans’ Home and listen to his or her stories. Send a card and a care package to a currently deployed service member. If you are in charge of hiring for your organization, consider hiring a veteran to help them re-acclimate to civilian life.

Veterans Day is an important day to remind us all of the enormous debt of gratitude we owe to all servicemen and women. A day to recall that we each have a role to play in recognizing and honoring the changing face of American veterans and welcoming them home to civilian life.

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