Today is Veterans Day in the US. As the child of Canadian citizens, this day doesn’t mean a lot to my family. To my knowledge, no one has talked of any military service performed by anyone on my father’s side, though I am sure, generations ago, that happened. On my mother’s side I come from former Soviet heritage – Latvian to be exact. Therefore, my grandfather fought against the Russians and with the Germans in hopes of gaining independence for his country. No, he was not affiliated with the Nazi party, but still, it is difficult to explain to people the complexities of WWII and why different people fought for different sides for different reasons. Therefore, I usually remain quiet on the matter, though I do have a Latvian pin or two that may have adorned his uniform at one point. They are among the very few possessions I have to help me remember him, even though they are far from symbolic of who he was, in my eyes, as I was growing up. So, on a day like today, I struggle to find ways to reflect and honor those who served in the past.
I do have friends who have served our country. Like my grandfather, their stories about their military service are infrequent. I’m not sure if this is because they don’t see that time as a large part of their identity, or if they just prefer not to talk about it. Or, perhaps, they don’t think I or others want to hear about it. But today, their Facebook pages come alive with pictures of them in uniform, or other acknowledgement of their time overseas. But again, I see these friends of mine as a combination of many other characteristics and memories first, with “(former) military” far in the back of my mind.
No matter who I do or don’t know with a military background, millions went overseas to fight wars built on strange, some say false, pretenses. On some level the “why” matters a whole lot, but on another, it doesn’t because, regardless of the reason, many served and then came back changed and alone. Our lack of services – especially those related to mental health – for our Veterans makes me sad for them and the priorities of our country. Over twenty suicide deaths every day; most of these victims never received services from the VA health care system. Too many whys from access to stigmatism to name.
It’s not enough to say “thank you” and then just walk away, or even offer a free breakfast or oil change as some companies choose to do. Even if it’s only for today, the next time you see someone in uniform (or anyone else for that matter), if you are going to say only one thing to them, ask “Are you OK?” Then take a moment to listen to the answer. As simple as that sounds, that one question can go a long way towards supporting someone and even preventing suicide. Much more than a free coffee, anyway.
If you’re not OK (and that’s OK), reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7). Press 1 for the Veterans line. You can also text “Go” to 741-741