By Nihad Awad, ISLAM-OPED
President John F. Kennedy once said: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
Another president, Abraham Lincoln, wrote, “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”
We can best honor our nation’s veterans through deeds, not mere words.
There are more than 20 million American veterans, many of whom are suffering or in need of assistance.
Veterans make up a troubling share of the nation’s homeless population. A significant portion of homeless veterans suffer from substance abuse or mental health issues, or both.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) afflicts almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, more than 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
A recent NPR report indicated that veterans in prison have high rates of PTSD, which may have resulted in the life difficulties that led to incarceration.
Veterans from recent conflicts also have a higher unemployment rate than veterans of any other era.
Other issues negatively impacting the lives of veterans include traumatic brain injuries received in combat and high suicide rates resulting from the unresolved issues brought on by military service.
Many veterans face family disruptions or financial difficulties because of long deployments or because of the many issues listed above.
It is clear that actions, not just words, are necessary to meet the needs of today’s veterans. And that means all veterans, whether they fought in wars – like World War II – that received widespread national support, or wars like Vietnam, which faced opposition by millions of Americans.
We should support veterans as people, regardless of the policies that sent them to war.
That support could include contacting elected officials to urge that sufficient funding be provided for veterans’ health care, contributing to programs for homeless veterans and volunteering at the nearest VA hospital or at any organization assisting veterans.
Our nation’s armed forces draw from all communities, regardless of race or religion.
Since our nation’s founding, Muslims fought in every American war, from the Revolution to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have included thousands of Muslim military personnel who served honorably.
While the figures are infrequently reported, since 2006, more than 200 American Muslims have been awarded Combat Action Ribbons.
We thank all those who have served in our nation’s military, but we must move beyond thanks to concrete demonstrations of support for veterans in their often challenging return to civilian life.
Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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