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Veterans Day has come and gone.

The “Thank you for your service” handshakes, prompted by an SSN-680 ball cap, have ebbed to a trickle, and the offers of free meals at local restaurants are yesterday's news.

Today, on the sidewalk and in the grocery store, I’m just a gray-bearded old guy in a Navy blue baseball cap, not that I really ever expected to be anything else.

Don’t get me wrong. I really do appreciate a heart-felt thank you, and I suppose the free meals are in the same class, though they seem to lack the sincerity of a thank-you and a hand shake and I admit I’ve never taken advantage of one. I never felt I was owed anything, even a thank you let alone a meal, but I have taught my kids that accepting the gift honors the giver, so maybe one day I’ll let someone treat me to a nice dinner.

Now it’s Monday morning, and Armistice Day, 1919 and the honor of soldiering seem far, far, away.

Why do I feel so bemused this weekend? After all, they are celebrating me generically, if not specifically. Shouldn’t I find satisfaction in that?

As I sip my morning java, I ponder that feeling. What am I missing? What did I wish it was like? Was thank you not enough? What did I want to hear?

There I found it. It wasn’t what I heard, it was what I didn’t hear in the thank you’s and handshakes.

I needed to hear more than “thank you for your service!” for investing a large portion of my early life away from my family and friends going in harms way, experiencing things that cannot be forgotten. Not because I am owed anything, but because the Veterans Day greeters, however sincere, don’t understand the price that we paid, and perhaps more importantly, continue to pay, for their way of life.

I need to hear, “Thank you for your service. I hope you’re doing OK. I’ve heard that the suicide rate for veterans is substantially higher than civilians, and that currently 22 veterans a day die from suicide. I’m making mental health care for vets my mission, and will not quit until we turn this around. You need easy access to nonjudgmental mental health care that understands the unique burdens you carry. We can do nothing less than make sure you can live to enjoy what you earned for all of us.”

I need to hear, “Thank you for your service. I hope the VA is taking good care of you. I heard that despite their strengths, the VA health system has failed some of you, and that isn’t OK. I’m actively lobbying my representatives to drive improvements in the VA medical system until it is the gold standard of single payer health care systems. You deserve nothing less, and if it can work for you, then that model can work for all of us. There has never been a time like the present to pursue this, and I will champion this until it is right.”

I need to hear, “Thank you for your service. I heard you are working to earn your degree. Congratulations! I realize you joined the Navy during a time period when our national respect and appreciation for our military was at an all time low, and that Congress took it out on you financially. I heard that if you enlisted between 1977 and 1985 you essentially got zero meaningful financial assistance for your education in return for your service. That’s not right. I’m organizing a group to go to Washington and lobby our representatives to extend full education benefits to all veterans, regardless of their period of service.”

I need to hear, “Thank you for your service. When I see you vets, I’m reminded that my sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters are the future of military service, and I want the politicians I elect to respect my children as they would their own. As a result, I’m voting for veterans. Military service is a must-have credential for anyone running for national political office. I want a President and a Congress that will consider the cost of military conflict in terms of young men and women, not the profits of the military industrial complex, or political positioning for the next election. Because of you, I will vote Veteran!”

There’s probably more, but for now this stands as my Veterans Day Wish List. Not because I feel entitled to any of these things, but because you deserve a future made better by a citizenry that understands the cost of freedom, the value of our unique Constitution, and a way of life where you make the choices that decide what your life is about.

 

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