While not as prominently celebrated as other major holidays, Veterans Day is undoubtedly one of the most significant days of the year. It is a day dedicated to saying thank you to the men and women who have selflessly served our nation in the armed forces. We should show our gratitude to our veterans every day of the year, but we should especially do so on Veterans Day. Their willingness to put their lives on the line and spend time away from loved ones to defend our freedom is something that we must never take for granted.
Ensuring our veterans have the benefits and resources they have earned is one of the federal government’s most important roles. As the daughter of an Air Force veteran and the sister of a retired Marine Corps Colonel, the needs of our veterans are of utmost concern to me. I have the honor of chairing the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health and have spent my first term in Congress listening to the concerns and needs of our veterans. Serving those who served is a top priority of mine.
One of the critical issues facing our veterans is mental health. The sad reality is that the numbers of veteran and active-duty suicides are on the rise. Most service members who experience multiple deployments will suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or another mental health condition. Often the symptoms do not manifest until the service members have separated from the military. We must ensure that veterans have access to quality services that will help them cope with the visible and invisible wounds of war.
During my time in Congress, I have been committed to raising awareness of the serious mental health issues facing the veteran and military communities. I have held numerous oversight hearings on different facets of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ mental health care system.
No one entity alone, however, can adequately address the needs of our veterans’ community. It will take a partnership of government, businesses, educational institutions, and faith-based entities to help our veterans, military, and their families thrive. We must all come together to work on behalf of all of our veterans, particularly those dealing with the invisible wounds of war.
Last December, I announced a new initiative that I was undertaking called Operation S.E.R.V.I.C.E (Supporting, Engaging, and Respecting Veterans in Communities Everywhere). As part of this effort, I held a symposium in my district in cooperation with the American Psychological Association (APA) for the local faith-based community on understanding and effectively addressing veterans’ mental health issues.
This past spring, I joined with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University in hosting the Conference on Engaging Community Support for Veterans. At the conference, veterans, government officials, business experts, and community leaders came together to discuss the needs of our local veterans and to map a path forward for the entire community to be involved. At the conference, I also announced the creation of the new, bipartisan Caucus on Engaging Community Support for Veterans, which is focused on encouraging a partnership between the Veterans Administration and colleges, businesses, and local communities.
It is our duty to work to assist our veterans dealing with mental health issues. If we do not, we will have failed the men and women who have dedicated themselves to protecting our nation. We often think of these issues as affecting other people, in other parts of the country, but this is a problem that affects every community. These are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends.
This Veterans Day, let us renew our commitment to our veterans. We live in the greatest nation in the history of mankind because of the service and sacrifice of the members of our military. Let us never forget that or take it for granted.
Buerkle is a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.