Of service and sacrifice

On this day, it is a fine thing to honor all veterans. But it is also appropriate to salute each veteran individually. We should recognize that military service and its meaning can be as varied as the uniformed men and women themselves.

Among U.S. veterans alive today, some served during times of intense conflict and others served in periods of relative peace. In either case, they contributed to our nation’s security and stood ready to put themselves in harm’s way.

Among those who served during conflict, the lucky ones felt support and shared commitment on the home front.

The less-fortunate ones were given missions that provoked widespread hostility or — worse — evoked public lassitude. (Beirut? Panama? Mogadishu? Do we remember those deployments? When did they occur? Why were troops there?) Too often servicemen and women returned home not as victors, but simply as government employees who had put in their time.

During dangerous times, a multitude of veterans was drawn to the armed forces by patriotism and selflessness, a determination to protect our country and make the world a safer place. Some men were drafted. Many people voluntarily interrupted their lives and careers to serve. Others recognized that enlistment could lead to education and greater opportunity.

People from all walks of life have come out of the military as principled leaders. Their numbers and reputations are notable in fields like business, politics, education and public safety. Veterans Day is a time to value these Americans, not only for their service in uniform but also for their lifelong citizenship.

The holiday is also a time to remember that many veterans paid a great price. Thousands gave their lives. Even more were damaged in ways that challenge our society’s compassion and bureaucratic competence.

Technical advances have allowed doctors to heal and replace body parts for wounded veterans. But medical and psychological services are inconsistent in quality and often wrapped up tightly in red tape.

This year, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that 22 veterans per day commit suicide. These are not all young veterans, fresh from combat. Officials say more than 69 percent of veteran suicides were among those 50 and older.

And as our country slowly pulls itself out of recession, the unemployment rate among veterans is higher than for the general population. Published estimates put the jobless rate among veterans as high as 22 percent.

These numbers remind us Veterans Day is about individual lives. For all the stories of success, there are also stories of struggle. And each is a story of sacrifice.

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