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Memorial Day 2013

by

Danny Ingram
President, American
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 opportunity.

  2013 Gay Military Signal, AVER