Coming home can be rough

Memorial Day is for remembering the many who sacrificed their lives for us. Veterans Day is set aside to recognize all veterans, present and past.

Still, we must today remember those who are in harm's way. Our warriors are men and women of every ethnic group, most religions and are aged from 18 to over 60.

For the last 230 years, Americans have felt the impact of the nation's conflicts. Today, less than 1 percent of this nation's population is engaged in our current conflicts. Amazingly, the names and photographs on the obituaries mean little to most.

Therein lies the difference between this Memorial Day and most of those in the past.

There was a recent tragic loss of five of our warriors at the hands of one of their own at a counseling facility in Iraq. The toll of repeated deployments is devastating to the mental health of our warriors. One can readily hear the frustration in public service announcements for a Community of Veterans, where the feeling is expressed of being alone and that vets' struggles as they return home are not understood.

Yet, even those who understand and have borne the battle not only on the battlefields over the last 60 years, but also against bureaucracy and indifference, are also frequently frustrated in attempts to assist these veterans. The frustration stems from the indifference and lack of understanding by the general public of all that our warriors have endured.

The mental effects of the trauma and chaos of war are significant. Even those who return home without visible wounds and scars may have mental scars that do not appear for many years. To its credit, the Department of Veterans Affairs tries hard to assist but in many cases, simply filling out the paperwork for a claim is further frustration. The military and the VA must work to seamlessly transition these warriors back to their pre-battlefield lives. Neither agency has ever done an adequate job at that.

Veterans' service organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, along with the Georgia Department of Labor, do a remarkable job assisting in that seamless transition. Unfortunately, they cannot do it alone.

It takes public remembrance of the sacrifices made by these warriors and their families to make it really happen.

Our returning warriors need jobs. They need to be able to return to their old jobs when possible. They need educational opportunities, and current legislation does not go far enough. Internships, adult education programs and on-the-job training all need recognition and funding, too.

Our returning warriors, as well as our warriors of old, need health care that is fully funded for all categories of veterans. The health care budget of the VA must be fully funded. VA clinics in rural areas must be established to ensure treatment for those who cannot travel to major VA medical centers for routine medical care.

We must improve the quality of life for all our warriors and their families who remain in the military service.

So much is done for so many by so few that we must remember them and their sacrifices. Please, don't forget to remember.

Albert R. Spears is adjutant/quartermaster of the Georgia Veterans of Foreign Wars.