We are the first generation that has never had to fight for its freedom.

We have been given just about everything one could want. Instant communication across the planet, the ability to purchase just about anything from home (or anywhere we happen to be), the ability to work, speak, think, and do as we please so long as nobody is injured by our efforts.

What it seems we don’t have is an appreciation for where it came from. For many in my generation, Memorial Day is a kick-off to summer, perhaps a time to track down sales. This has become an internet meme (because of course it has) among many pro-military sites. This is either ignored in full or seen as trite, but personally the fact that Memorial Day has come to symbolize summer and shopping is annoying at best and repulsive at worst.

What would happen if, as a nation, we actually meant “support the troops” beyond the initial send-off to war? An article this week on ITS Tactical looks into many of the issues facing our veterans today; among them being homelessness (about 1/3 of adult homeless are veterans), spikes in traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and a record number of suicides.

Most recently (as in “this week”) we have the Veterans Affairs scandal. While I am fully aware that Memorial Day is about those who have given their lives in defense of our country, I highlight this scandal both for its scale and because it is a scandal that, for a country that repeated “support the troops” with unreal regularity, apparently cannot be asked to care for those who have survived the wars we sent them to. Leaving aside the recent reports that the present administration knew about it since they took office few (at least in my opinion) would argue that there are people more deserving of the best care our nation has to offer than those who have risked their lives for it. Wait times for veterans reportedly go for months, and what should be a national embarrassment is instead being treated as yet another scandal. A political football.

What I am saying is this: we as a nation like to say we support the troops. It is something that is said frequently, almost mechanically. The reality is at present there is almost no evidence that we actually believe what we say. Memorial Day, on the surface, is a day to remember those who have died in the Armed Forces. In the days leading up to this year’s Memorial Day, that entire premise is undercut by celebrations of sales, the “unofficial beginning” of summer, and a disastrous veterans healthcare system.

We have been given everything by people who have fought and died for us. It is cliche but true that the sacrifices made, the hardships endured and generally the raw effort undertaken to defend (indeed, to create) this nation cannot be repaid. Nonetheless, we must begin to treat those still with us with the best care we can offer, and those no longer with us with the utmost respect we can give.

We have been given everything. It is time we give something back.

Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.

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