Memorial Day 2013
Veterans For Equal Rights
Experiencing the Vietnam War
Memorial in Washington DC, you understand the profound
feeling of loss and pain that the monument creates for
those who see it. The memorial is a tear in the earth, a
black wall of name upon endless name disappearing into
the distance, reflecting back to you your own image as
the survivor, the perpetrator, and the mourner, with
incredibly powerful emotions all piled into a jumbled
mass of painful sadness. It is an invitation to grieve.
The perfect memorial to war. A bleak rip in the fabric
of the land. A thing that does not belong.
Imagine that black wall three times larger and expanding
continuously, correctly reflecting the number of Vietnam
War veterans who have taken their own lives since the
end of the war. You look at the bleak wall, and every
two hours a new name slowly emerges, beginning as a mere
shadow and materializing into the deeply etched carving
of yet another casualty of a war 50 years past. Why does
this happen? Why would someone who escaped the horror of
that terrible conflict and survived intact, many years
later allow a mostly forgotten tragedy to rob them of
their instinct to live?
Because they didn't forget. They didn't survive intact.
They never came home.
This Memorial Day, 2013, I have been invited to
participate in the Presidential Wreath Placing ceremony
at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington,
Virginia, the most sacred space in America. This is a
great honor for me, and for you, as I represent American
Veterans for Equal Rights, an acknowledged Veterans'
Service Organization. I was invited to attend the
Presidential ceremony by the VA, who read about AVER's
participation at Arlington on our website.
We will remember the brave men and women who have given
their lives in the defense of our nation's freedom.
There will be more women to remember in the future, a
reminder of the responsibility of defending liberty in a
nation that is still evolving in its understanding of
what it means to be free and equal. Equally free,
equally responsible. The two go hand in hand.
Across the vast country, in massive urban cemeteries and
tiny rural plots, the sacrifices of many veterans will
go unnoticed and largely forgotten. The ones who
survived deployment, but lost their lives to the war.
The suicide epidemic is a tragedy. Our nation is not
taking care of our veterans. We are not honoring their
sacrifice. We are not holding up our end of the sacred
trust, to give all we can to care for those who promise
to give all they have. We have betrayed our promise, and
as a nation we must do better.
What can we as members of a Veterans' Service
Organization do to help our fellow vets who are
struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide? We
can make sure that our nation does not forget the debt
it owes to our veterans. We can remind our fellow
citizens that taking care of our veterans is a primary
moral obligation, a funding imperative, and a matter of
national defense, particularly when we have an
all-volunteer force. Who will want to serve if they know
our nation is not serious about caring for them after
they complete their service? Who will promise to give
all that they have to defend our liberty when they know
we won't take our obligations to them seriously,
particularly when the national budget is tight and the
nation is more interested in defeating the other party
than in creating a stronger, more responsible republic?
We can hold our leaders accountable to the obligations
they owe those who serve, and we can use our numbers to
bring pressure and influence real change. We can
continue to cosponsor congressional bills that help
veterans, such as HR 1725 the Veterans Mental Health
Accessibility Act currently before congress.
We can do the hard work of interacting with the VA to
help them better serve us. We can take the time to make
our concerns known, and make sure the organization whose
purpose is to provide services to our veterans is well
funded, closely monitored, and purposely dedicated to
delivering the most effective and expedient services
possible to deliver the competent health care promised
to our vets.
Most importantly, those of us who understand best can
reach out to our fellow vets when we see them struggle.
The greatest power in the world rests gently in the
palms of compassionate hands. Each of us possesses that
power, and each of us must be willing to use it to help
our fellow vets who are struggling with thoughts of
depression and suicide. We must learn to recognize the
symptoms and make the effort to let someone know that we
care. No one else can understand. No one else can do it.
After World War II the chances were great that if a vet
needed to talk to another vet about the war he could
step next door to his neighbor's house. This is no
longer the case. And it will get much worse as the
number of Americans who serve gets fewer and fewer.
American Veterans for Equal Rights will continue to
serve as the homecoming for our LGBT veterans. Their
mission to protect our freedom was vital and honorable.
Our mission to protect them is no less so. Reach out to
each other. Listen. Be present. Turn off the ubiquitous
electronic devices. Care. Being present to another
person is the most genuinely human we can ever be. We
honor the humanity of another person by offering them
our own humanity.
While I have written this article, a Vietnam Veteran has
taken his life. I am so sorry I was not there for him. I
want to say I care. I want to say I'm sorry. I want to
say Thank you for serving. I want to offer a helping
hand. Its too late.
It was no one's fault. It was everyone's missed
© 2013 Gay Military Signal, AVER