This weekend many in our nation will lose sight of the importance of a special day of remembrance regarding the sacrifices we have made as a people. It is a day that has been called many things, unfortunately some only refer to it as a three-day holiday and that is regrettable.
On Monday, May 28 we will be remembering the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our liberties. We should also be saying thank you to men and women who are no longer with us, who have also served this great nation and have been laid to rest under the flag of this great nation.
On Marco Island veterans and volunteers will adorn Collier Boulevard with small American flags that will help many to recall the significance of this special day, but some will only be rushing to the beach, golf courses and shopping.
I think we began to lose our perspective on what Memorial Day means when we began to think about it as the beginning of summer. When we began the commercialization of this special day and thinking about it as a time for special sales on gas grills, outdoor furniture and flip flops, instead of its original purpose.
Today, we have approximately 1,400,000 active duty personnel serving our nation. Another 880,000 men and women serve in Reserve and National Guard units across America, with many of them being called up to help in the war against terrorism across the globe.
During every election we’ve held since I can remember, politicians have spoken to the need to provide better services to those that have served us all. However, by the time the election signs have been taken down on lawns, campaign buttons stored away and the constant barrage of political advertising fades from the airways and television sets, those empty promises seem to quickly evaporate.
From 2001 through 2016 there have been 1,650 troops who have lost hands, arms, legs or feet during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even that data may be less than accurate and may err on the low side. Numerous other veterans have been severely wounded, suffered traumatic brain injuries, been severely burned or disabled.
This is not an attempt to minimize the traumatic injuries suffered by surviving veterans from the World War II conflict, Korea, Vietnam and other engagements around the world, or even from non-combat injuries while serving.
Sadly, approximately 20 veterans a day take their own lives, whether it is because of depression, mental illness or their lack of ability to cope with a myriad of issues. Another startling statistic lies with the fact that approximately 39,000 veterans are homeless every night.
President Trump has proposed a $12.1 billion increase in spending for the Veterans Affairs Budget for 2019, which would raise that spending to a total of $198.6 billion. It is estimated that seven million veterans will be treated in VA facilities during the next year and another 118 million outpatient visits at facilities.
Mental health care is also being increased and will provide for 15.2 million outpatient visits, which reflects an increase of 162,000 visits above 2018.
Pension, educational assistance and vocational training are all included within the spending plan, in addition to $2.5 billion in construction, modernization and expansion of existing facilities.
Some believe that we can do better in the managing of those resources by looking at alternative ways to deliver the services and possibly assisting in the expansion of the help given to our veterans. I think we all understand that bureaucracy can sometimes get in the way of reaching the finish line in the most effective and efficient manner.
Myself, I would like to see an independent review of an alternate program for delivering medical services for retiring veterans and those in need of continuing support because of injuries or ailments associated with service. The delivery method would be similar to those citizens on Medicare and they would only need to provide their doctors with the card.
They wouldn’t have to travel long distances to access a VA medical center, instead they could utilize physicians within or close to their own communities. We should also provide those same individuals with 100% prescription drug coverage, which would have similar convenient local access.
The VA has been a major supporter of advances in prosthetics, spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries and has been significant contributor to many of those wonderful developments. Those enhancements have served those in need beyond that of the military, while providing hope where there had been none previously. I am confident that type of collaborative effort could still continue to benefit so many in our nation and around the world.
We might also find improved delivery methods for services regarding educational and mental health services for those in need. Improvements in those areas may also assist in the challenges facing homeless veterans, many of whom may be lifted from years of neglect.
We must begin to move forward with reforms and improvements to those that have given so much for so many. This Memorial Day we should all make a commitment to keep these reforms moving forward. As Americans we have a debt to pay and need to unleash the creativity and energies to get the job done for those we owe this great debt to.
God bless America and our troops.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com