Opinion: This has been a busy week in our neck of the woods. We’ve been quite occupied as our town has been preparing for Veterans Day and I can proudly say that our bucolic little burg in the Northeast has never been one to just pay lip service to days like Veterans Day and Memorial Day. They have always put a lot of thought and effort into these events which veterans and citizens can interact.

Our local Veterans Council, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), visited several of the area schools where students, teachers, and veterans interacted both in classrooms and in an assembly. We also visited a local nursing home we spent time with about 20-25 veterans who are getting services there and to also let them know they haven’t been forgotten.

On Saturday morning, the residents of a new development had the Town’s veterans in their community center for a great breakfast where the people donated their time and volunteered to cook for the vets and the community. It is a trend that they started a year ago and helps bring all of us together. A nice touch was around the flagpole in front of the community center was 100 small flags to signify the 100 years since the end of the fighting in World War I.

But the purpose here isn’t to remark on the way the area treats our vets and veterans organizations, which is superb. But the way our unseen and little talked about veterans, the ones who have chronic health problems, substance abuse issues or possibly all three and are on the streets homeless. We can do better by those men and women. Much better.

We all know and are aware of the problems some Veteran Administration Centers and hospitals have had. Several have been awful, while the vast majority have been doing well by our vets. This isn’t an indictment on them…far from it. Nobody foresaw a war lasting as long as the Global War on Terror has. It has stretched on longer than any conflict in our history and still has no end in sight. Some of the young men and women who signed up immediately after 9/11 are within three years of retirement if they remained in the service.

Our veterans have always been there for our country and answered the call when she beckoned. And the country owes them the same loyalty when both the visible and invisible scars of war take their inevitable toll on both the body and mind. Our veterans who served their country faithfully deserve to be treated with the same loyalty that they’ve shown the country when answering its call. In both the VA and civilian healthcare sectors. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

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Too often, we read about veterans being turned away or forced to wait for months to receive care for the wounds they’ve suffered. That is completely unacceptable. The suicide rate for veterans is vastly above the national average. And many of the veteran community will say that they feel the country wishes they’d just fade away than acknowledge that a problem exists or that they are a burden to the American taxpayers. That’s an indictment on us as a country.

We’re constantly reminded how the cost of freedom never goes away but is continually being paid for in the blood of our troops. Just last week, a member of my old unit, the 7th Special Forces Group, 7th SFG(A), lost a soldier in a training accident.  Specialist Nicholas C. Jividen, who was assigned to the group’s 3rd Battalion Headquarters and Support Company, died at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. Meanwhile, the fighting goes on and on in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and countless other places.

Today and all week, everywhere we go, especially in our little hometown, we hear the familiar and very appreciated, by the way, words, “Thank you for your service.” There is always a sense of pride, of their unit and belonging to something bigger than themselves that will always mark our veterans. They also know that they have done their part in keeping America free. Many who have traveled extensively have seen how the rest of the world lives and what a blessing it is to live in the United States where we all take so much for granted.

But in reality, we need to remember all of the country’s veterans. And not just thanking them for faithful service, but by repaying that loyalty, which is a two-way street in taking care of their legitimate health care needs.

As we celebrate the 100-year end of the “War to end all wars” today, it is the veteran who knows that no such thing exists. There will always be “the next one” and they are at the point of the spear representing America’s interest. We also honor all of the vets today, both the young and the old who have responded to the needs of the many.

In a country that supposedly prides itself on valuing our veteran community, don’t we all owe it to them to give them the best available health coverage? So while we truly appreciate the “Thanks for your service” wishes today, let us not forget the ones who need help the most. They’ve answered the call and deserve our respect.

When there are no more homeless veterans and waiting lists for months in advance at the VA, then we can truly say, we thank American veterans for their service. They deserve nothing less.

Photo: Wikipedia