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Archive for November, 2013

They served us, and now we serve them

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For many of us without direct family ties to the military, Veterans Day becomes a time for patriotic observance and general “support for our troops,” but often without the personal, emotional understanding for the experiences of our returning military personnel. Recently, Barbara Banaszynski, who oversees Volunteers of America’s programs for homeless veterans, wrote a letter that was published in USA Today on Veterans Day. The letter beautifully articulated the experiences of countless military families … Barbara’s son served multiple tours in Iraq, and she has a long family connection to the military.

The letter read in part: “A few days ago, I went in search of the grave of my first cousin who was buried with full military honors at Arlington cemetery. I remember him from our childhood as tall, handsome and athletic and a basketball player on his high school team and college team. After college we drifted apart. He went in to the military, me to graduate school. At periodic family gatherings, it would be said that he wasn’t doing well and drifting off to other parts of the country. He suffered several failed marriages and then finally an early death from complications of an organ transplant. Now I know that his life post-Vietnam was rocky and he likely suffered from PTSD and self medicated to cope with his demons. I wish that I had not been so unaware and so busy with my own life that I had taken the time to reach out to my cousin and now it’s too late.

“As we approach Veterans Day, it is not too late for all of us to extend a hand to the men and women returning from 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can do more than honor their service by clapping our hands in the airport. We can extend our hand in friendship and assistance. We can hire these experienced men and women in our businesses and welcome them into our neighborhoods. We can offer assistance to them in enhancing their careers as they have put their careers on hold to protect us. We can urge our government to continue to provide extensive supports and services for those veterans forever changed by their military service.”

Unfortunately, many of the veterans Volunteers of America serves today share experiences similar to those of Barbara’s cousin. It’s our goal to help each of them overcome the personal challenges they face and live successful lives once they return home. They served us, and now we serve them.

– By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

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