This past weekend the nation stopped to honor all that have died in service to our country. Memorial Day is an American holiday, by Federal law it is celebrated on the last Monday in May. Focusing on the reasons for this holiday and the men and women that it honors, it is important to remember how Memorial Day evolved and the history behind it. Originally it was a tradition started to honor the soldiers killed while fighting in the Civil War. It was called Decoration Day because people would decorate the graves of fallen servicemen as way of remembering and honoring their sacrifice for our country. Memorial Day became an official Federal holiday in 1971. This is a day of remembrance and giving thanks for those who have fought for our freedom. Parades are held and for many it is the unofficial start of summer.
War and the experiences in war can leave unseen scars that claim lives years later. Malignant mesothelioma is diagnosed every year in over 3,000 people each year in the United States. Of that amount approximately 1,000 are Veterans of the military, having served our country. Another way servicemen are affected after their service is over is by untreated mental health issues leading to suicide.
The longest foreign war this country has ever fought is still ongoing. In 2001 the war in Afghanistan started, it is now in its 18th year, with many military experts saying there is no end in sight. Many American soldiers have paid the ultimate price in this war. Many other servicemen have paid the ultimate price after leaving the war, dealing with the effects of war on their mental health.
This past week I attended a conference in which a Veteran gave a talk on his experience post military, in his search for mental health help. He is a service connected disabled Veteran who is advocating for fellow Veterans. He is a Veteran of 14 years of service. During his years in the military he had served 2 tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, had multiple commendations for bravery and service. He is a service connected disabled Veteran with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress syndrome. His wounds are not evident to look at him but are connected to his service. He has taken his experience with the Veterans Administration and become an advocate for his fellow servicemen. He has dedicated himself to helping other returning veterans so that their path back to health will be smoother than his. As he shared his story he related that in the past few years 15 of his fellow servicemen that he had served with had committed suicide. The suicides were all related to the long-term effects of their service. Some had received help, but most had not. He was advocating for improvements to the Veterans Administration access and availability for the returning service-member.
Some private organizations have recognized the need for ongoing emotional support for the Veteran and their families. One such organization that is dedicated to healing the invisible scars of war in Boston is called Home Base, started by the Boston Red Sox Foundation. Home Base is dedicated to ongoing counseling and support of Veterans and their families, regardless of their discharge status.
As we remember those who have given their lives for our country this Memorial Day 2018, remember the Veterans who are struggling with the invisible demons of their service.
Thank-You for your service.