What can individual Idahoans do to honor America’s veterans?

Americans can commemorate Veterans Day twice this year. The official observance is November 11. It dates back to the armistice ending World War I, which went into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It was originally called Armistice Day, but renamed Veterans Day in 1954. November 11 falls on Saturday this year, so the state and federal holiday is observed on Friday, November 10.

It is certainly fitting that Americans join together on Veterans Day to honor and thank those who stepped forward to serve the country. But there is so much more that individuals can do throughout the year to show their appreciation and support for our veteran population. Idaho currently has about 160,000 veterans.

Although the veteran suicide rate appears to have declined in the last several years, it is still a major tragedy. About 17 veterans die by suicide every day in the U.S., according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). The veteran suicide rate is 57.3% higher than non-veterans. DVA data shows that Idaho’s suicide rate is significantly higher than the national average.

These figures are likely a floor because a recent study suggests that veteran suicides may have been significantly undercounted. That is, deaths attributed to other causes, mainly drug overdoses, may actually have been veterans taking their own lives. The study indicates the real daily figure might be closer to 44 suicides per day.

Whatever the death rate, we can and must do better to save the lives of veterans. Individual Idahoans can help. We can all reach out to veterans we know who appear to be troubled. They should be informed of resources available to help veterans with suicide, substance abuse and mental health issues. DVA operates a Veterans Crisis Line that can assist on a confidential, 24/7 basis. Idaho has its own highly-regarded crisis line, the Idaho Crisis & Suicide Hotline.

The Idaho crisis line can always use additional financial support and people can find a donate button on its website. We should all make it known to our federal and state legislators that adequate funding is necessary for these and other veterans programs in order to keep faith with those who have served us well. Specific mention should be made to our Congressional delegation of the need for DVA to provide better opioid addiction treatment for newly transitioned veterans. A recent Inspector General report indicates that such treatment is currently inadequate.

Another area where individual Idahoans can lend a hand to veterans is with regard to foreigners who served alongside our military personnel. Foreign nationals who served in the U.S. military and individuals who worked for American forces in our recent wars have not received the path to citizenship they were promised. Those of us who served with foreigners regard this as a serious and regrettable breach of trust.

The Veterans Service Recognition Act (HR 4569) provides for the naturalization of foreign nationals who have served or are serving in the U.S. military. The Bill passed the House last year, but not the Senate. It is supported by many organizations, including the American Legion, and should be enacted into law. Idahoans should call upon our Congressional delegation for action on the bill. During several months with the Army in Okinawa in 1968, I served under Captain Dietmar W.L. Zurell, a German national serving to acquire citizenship. He was a great addition to our American family.

Idahoans can also urge our delegation and the President to speed up processing of visas for Iraqis and Afghans who put their lives at risk by helping Americans in those two wars. We have recently heard of the problems that Afghans have encountered in getting visas, but there are up to 100,000 Iraqis who are still waiting for our promises to be kept.

I spent most of my service in Vietnam living and working with South Vietnamese soldiers. We were friends. We trusted one another with our lives. They believed in America and one of my greatest regrets is that we did not lift a finger to keep them from a dreaded fate when the Communists took over their country in 1975. We should never turn our back again on those foreign friends who risked their lives for American troops.

Please have a thoughtful Veterans Day.

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