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Nov. 11 is not the only day vets should be remembered

November 06, 2007

Up north in Canada, they mark Nov. 11 not as Veterans' Day, but as Remembrance Day, which sounds like a good idea to us. A little effort spent remembering why this coming Sunday is a holiday couldn't hurt, because where veterans and their sacrifices are concerned, America's leaders often seem eager to forget.

For example, it took six years after the end of the Gulf War for the federal government to acknowledge that, due to the explosive demolition of an underground bunker, as many as 100,000 soldiers might have been exposed to traces of nerve gas, a possible cause of Gulf War syndrome.

The Washington Post reported in February that many wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were being housed in an old, deteriorating building, where those who were convalescing shared their quarters with mice, roaches and mold.

In August, The Boston Globe reported that the number of homeless veterans is growing, in part because the cost of housing has increased much faster than wages.

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While Vietnam-era veterans struggled for years to readjust to civilian life before drifting into homelessness, the Department of Veterans Affairs homeless office reported that some U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are making that sad journey in just 18 months.

Following the Gulf War, the International Union of Gospel Missions released a survey which found that of 11,000 men seeking shelter in its 58 missions for the homeless, a full third are veterans of the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf War conflicts.

And far from being military misfits, 71 percent of the men surveyed were honorably discharged, which suggests that there is something missing in the transition between military and civilian life.

One possibility: It happens too quickly. Phil Rydman, a spokesman for the mission group that did the survey, said surveyors found that soldiers often went from being in combat to being homeless in a short period of time.

If this is part of the problem, then it would make sense to allow soldiers a little more "decompression time" - in uniform, but out of combat - before they're discharged.

Whatever the answer - and Americans should be pressing their government to do more research in this area - the nation's veterans deserve all citizens' respect for taking on assignments such as Somalia, Bosnia and now Iraq, where their chief duty is to act as a buffer between two or more groups that hate each other.

To leave such places without a victory, or without even knowing if all your efforts will be voided next month by some dictator's actions, must be a terrible source of stress.

If you know a veteran, take some time today to let him or her know that what they did is appreciated and above all, not forgotten.

And if you attend a ceremony honoring veterans this coming Sunday, please remember that for those who remained safe at home, paying them honor involves putting the pressure on government to see that their needs are met.

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