For the first time in twenty years, our military forces are not fighting and dying in some senseless war.We all should be thankful the latest “forever wars” finally have been brought to an end.And we should determine ourselves to stop any such future war.

If you are a veteran, thank you for your service and your sacrifices.As a nation, we are insufficiently appreciative of your sacrifices.

“Thank you for your service” is so easy to say. But how sincere is it? If we truly are sincere, if we have any understanding of and appreciation for the sacrifices our veterans have made, of the physical and mental wounds many will carry with them for the remainder of their lives, we would not be so easily stampeded into war by putrid politicians, many of whom were too much the coward to serve when it was their turn.

The men and women who serve in our armed forces join for many different reasons.Some serve for the “traditional” reasons we generally think of—love of country; sense of duty.

For many, however, it is the “poverty draft”.They see the military as a way out of poverty, as a means by which to better themselves.They see the potential to learn a skill in the military they can apply to civilian life.Maybe they are assigned to Transportation and become vehicle mechanics.Perhaps they are assigned to the Medical Service Corps and become medics or medical technicians.

The military can be an excellent way up.But there also is a need for the basic purpose of a military; the “grunts” who do the fighting, the killing, the bleeding, the dying.Those who die are rewarded by being shipped home in a box, gift wrapped.There will be a funeral, sobbing family members, solemn words, an honor guard, a flag.

And then, they are to be forgotten by all but their loved ones who will carry the pain of having lost them for the rest of their lives. Maybe the rest of us will remember them briefly on Veterans Day or Memorial Day.

Many of our combat veterans who do not come home in a box, gift wrapped, return home with scars seen and unseen.These scars, whether a lost limb or Post Traumatic Stress, often make it difficult for combat veterans to re-assimilate into civilian life.

Thankfully, we are doing much better—both our government and our society—in the way we treat our veterans.At least since the Viet Nam war, veteran unemployment rates have been higher, sometimes much higher, than the unemployment rate in general.

Thankfully, at least recently, the veteran unemployment rate consistently has been lower than the general unemployment rate. Employers are realizing what they should have known all along.Veterans make good employees.

The Veterans Administration also is doing much better, especially in providing mental care for our veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress.The difference between that help today and the (non existent) help Viet Nam vets received for well over two decades after returning home is the difference between daylight and dark.

We should be very thankful for that.But we also should realize today’s veterans with PTS receive far better mental care than Viet Nam veterans because, when we returned from Viet Nam, we had to fight “wars” here at home.

We organized to fight a war to end that unjustifiable, illegal, murderous war in Viet Nam, to fight a war against the war mongers who called us cowards and blamed us for losing a war that could not be won even if we stayed there 2,000 years as the Chinese did before waking up, going home, and leaving the people of Viet Nam alone.

We fought for and won the health care, and especially the mental health care provided to our Iraq and Afghanistan brothers and sisters today. And our nation is the better for it.

Though progress has been made for which we should be very thankful, much more progress is needed.The Valley is an excellent example.

For decades, veterans’ medical needs in the Valley virtually were ignored.There was a puny clinic in McAllen that provided virtually nothing.That began to change with a 2008 law to expand VA medical facilities, and the current clinics in McAllen and Harlingen were built.

Still, in 2014, the Harlingen Clinic had the worst wait time for appointments of any VA medical facility in the nation. This was at a time when wait times at many VA hospitals and clinics was so long veterans literally were dying while waiting for medical care.

Although the situation is much better today, wait times for appointments still are too long; sometimes over a month just to see a general practitioner.

We need a VA hospital in the Valley.We have the largest veterans population in the nation not served by a VA hospital. Local leaders, veterans and the citizens of the Valley need to determine themselves to make that hospital a reality.A Valley VA hospital should be a litmus test for any Congressional candidate from the Valley, for any Senatorial candidate, or candidate for Governor or the State Legislature. If they don’t pledge to work for a VA hospital, we don’t vote for them. Period.

There are many lessons we need to learn from the experiences of our veterans.Better health care certainly is one. But there is a more important lesson we should have learned from Viet Nam but obviously didn’t.

The U.S. needs to stop fighting these God forsaken wars of imperial aggression.These are wars we are destined to lose, as Iraq and Afghanistan once more so clearly tell us.

We need a military to protect and defend the United States against would-be aggressors. If we want to use our military for non-combat humanitarian missions in other countries where our help is requested by governments, that is fine. But our veterans deserve better than to be shipped to Viet Nam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan to die face down in the mud.

We have an obligation to protect and defend them just as they take an oath and have an obligation to protect and defend us.Our political “leaders” have failed those who serve in our military.WE have failed our veterans.We must not fail them any more.

If you are family, loved one, or friend of a veteran, hold that veteran close to you this Veterans Day, tell your veteran you love him or her.Apologize to that veteran for not doing more to prevent and stop these despicable forever wars.Then promise that veteran you will work to see our beautiful country never again fights any war unless we are under attack. To borrow from one of my Viet Nam brothers, it is past time that we stop searching for enemies, searching for senseless wars to fight for no decent reason.

The men and women who put on military uniforms deserve better than this.They deserve much better.We owe them.

The above guest column was penned by Viet Nam War veteran, retired educator and columnist Samuel Freeman. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Freeman, who is based in the Rio Grande Valley, can be reached by email via: [email protected]

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