All Americans should be grateful for the sacrifices of our military veterans, and we should take today, Veterans Day, to tell them so.
But saying we’re grateful isn’t enough.
We must also help our returning soldiers with the challenges many face when they return to civilian life by supporting funding and legislation to help them address such problems as physical injuries, mental health issues and homelessness.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans commits suicide each day.
Of those 20, according to a column by Rep. Thomas Suozzi, about 14 do not avail themselves to the counseling services provided by the Veterans Administration, either by choice or because they were dishonorably discharged or made too much money to qualify.
In May, Suozzi introduced legislation in Congress that would provide free mental health counseling to all U.S. military veterans.
The Mental Health Services for All Veterans Act would ensure that any veteran — whether they’re on active duty, discharged honorably or dishonorably or served in the National Guard or in the Military Reserves — is given full access to the help and treatment they need.
Many of the mental health problems they have are related to their service, and they should be eligible for treatment — for their own sake and the public’s.
Another bill, the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act, would direct the VA to furnish soldiers with an initial mental health assessment and provide any mental health care services needed to treat urgent mental health needs, including risk of suicide or harming others.
Another issue facing veterans is homelessness. In 2016, there were an estimated 39,470 homeless vets in the U.S.
The mental stress from their service, drug use, brain injuries, a lack of social support and difficulties adjusting to civilian life are major contributors.
The Legal Services for Homeless Veterans Act would greatly expand access to lawyers in civil legal cases, as many homeless veterans’ unmet needs are related to legal problems.
Here in New York, the state Legislature is considering dozens of bills to help veterans, including bills for tax credits and exemptions, exemptions from rent increases, establishing peer support groups, providing greater access to public housing, and providing additional health and employment services.
If we want to demonstrate our gratitude to our veterans, we can go up to them and personally thank them.
We also can show them our gratitude by supporting legislation and programs that will give them the help they need and deserve.
After all, they’ve earned it.