Opinion: Does America really need Memorial Day? As more people equate the federal holiday with “the unofficial start of the summer” and a good reason to fire up the grill, has the holiday lost its meaning? More to the point, do we need two holidays (Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day) to express our appreciation for the men and women who have served in our military (and with Memorial Day, died in carrying out their military service)? I would argue that while we need both holidays, we need to do more than pay lip service to our military personnel with two holidays.
Memorial Day has been around for a long time and has become firmly entrenched in American society. An article at History.com explains the holiday’s origin, including the uncertainty where the event honoring military personnel who died in the line of duty began as well as the fact that it didn’t become a national holiday until 1971.
The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.
By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.
I’ve seen some people lobby for a third holiday to honor our military but when you consider the many needs our veterans have and the families of veterans, a third holiday is a slap in the face as long as we continue to deny disabled veterans their disability benefits, deny veterans access to medical services, and all but ignore them after they’ve been discharged from the military.
Consider this statistic from The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans:
Although flawless counts are impossible to come by – the transient nature of homeless populations presents a major difficulty – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 40,056 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness. Only 7% of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans.
There is some good news in regards to homeless veterans:
The number of homeless veterans has decreased by about 50% since 2009, according to HUD’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR).
Why are some veterans homeless? According to the coalition’s web page:
In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.
As most veterans who receive treatment at Veterans Administration hospitals can attest, there are a number of problems ranging from a lack of health care providers to hospitals taking forever to see patients, sometimes leading to patients’ deaths. The Veterans Health Administration Scandal of 2014 showed just how bad things were. USA Today’s timeline of the scandal shows the government’s lax response and the agency’s systematic problems. There’s no need for me to list the VA hospitals’ many problems, gentle reader. You’ve likely heard of them and if not, Google “VA hospitals suck” and see what comes up.
Another problem is disabled veterans who apply for service-related disability benefits and seemingly wait an eternity for their case to be heard, let alone resolved. The phrase “delay, deny, wait until you die” sums up how some veterans perceive the process of applying for benefits they are entitled to.
Knowing the many sacrifices that veterans make (including making the ultimate sacrifice), I feel it’s time to truly honor our veterans by providing them access to the health care they deserve and to provide timely access to hearings on things such as disability benefits. These of course are not only needed for veterans, but for their families. The United States could turn every day into a holiday honoring veterans, but until it makes significant improvements in the Veterans Administration, it’s all lip service.