This Veterans Day is an extra special one, as it coincides with the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It also falls on a Sunday, meaning we have an entire weekend to honor veterans before enjoying a day off from work on Monday. For veterans, it will be a great opportunity to get discounts and free meals.
Of course, Veterans Day means much more than freebies and time off from work – especially to those who are suffering from service-related diseases.
Why We Celebrate Veterans Day
Originally called Armistice Day, Veterans Day falls on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, the day guns fell silent in Europe to mark the end of World War I in 1918. Veterans Day was originally established as an opportunity to thank those who selflessly served in that war, the Korean War, and others.
Veterans Day is of course very different from Memorial Day, which serves to recognize the members of the U.S. armed forces who have passed away. Instead, Veterans Day offers us a chance to honor the men and women who have ended their tenure in the military and continue to live their lives as valuable members of American society. Many of these veterans are still making tremendous sacrifices to this day, some of which are due directly to their service.
Veterans and Invisible Disabilities
Invisible disabilities are diseases, disorders, and ailments that might not be visible at first to the naked eye, but they are just as impactful as any visible disability – and they are prevalent among U.S. veterans. Such disabilities can include suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), hidden battle-related injuries, psychological and mental-health issues, and cancers. One such “invisible battle” that some veterans fight is with the rare and deadly cancer mesothelioma – a disease that affects veterans disproportionately. Mesothelioma, a type of cancer that attacks the pleural linings of the lungs (and other vital organs), is caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos.
During the war, this supposedly safe and inexpensive material was used to fireproof almost all vehicles, vessels, and military bases. It was everywhere: in insulation, boilers, turbines, and ropes, to name only a few products. Now, of course, we know that asbestos is far from safe. Due to daily exposure to the mineral, veterans now suffer the highest rates of fatal asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, making up a third of all cases in the U.S.
In 1944, Congress passed the G.I. Bill of Rights, in part to provide veterans easier access to the healthcare they’d need to improve their chances of survival. Since then, however, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has consistently let them down. Thousands of veterans have died waiting for healthcare. And under the current administration, dying veterans are fighting harder than ever to secure benefits.
These brave men and women deserve better. Where Congress and the administration don’t act, our civil society can.
How Can You Help?
Nonprofit organizations do amazing work to improve the lives of veterans and their families, but they need your support. Regardless of whether or not you know a veteran personally, there are several simple but powerful ways to make a difference in their lives this weekend:
- Host a lunch or dinner in their honor. Invite civilian friends along to learn about the military experience and show appreciation for their service.
- Listen to and share their story. If you don’t know a veteran, contact your local VA hospital to see if you can visit and/or volunteer. To hospitalized veterans who don’t often get visits, lending an ear can mean the world.
- Volunteer. Every community has a veteran service organization (VSO) focused on supporting veterans and their families through challenges like housing, therapy, and treatment for conditions like PTSD and mesothelioma. Volunteers help with activities like handing out supplies at veteran homeless shelters, but if you don’t have time, VSOs also welcome donations.
- Attend a parade or an event in your area. Parades are being held throughout the country on both Saturday and Sunday, featuring marching bands, military units, drill teams, and more. Check your local news sites or VSO for information on events in your area.
Remember: Many of the war-related battles veterans fought are long behind us, but for some, the effects are lifelong. Our continued support of all U.S. veterans remains pivotal. Changing the way veterans are treated starts locally, in our communities, and with a simple, heartfelt “thanks” for their help in making the world a better, safer place for us all.