Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is one day enough?

Today is Veteran’s Day.  My Daddy is an Army Veteran, my brother is Active Duty Air Force and I have countless uncles and cousins who have worn the uniform of our nation’s armed forces. 
As an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, I am in a unique position to thank our Nation’s Veterans every day for their service.  My department is Prosthetic and Sensory Aids.  We provide any item or service that a Veteran uses in their home, including but not limited to artificial limbs, power and manual wheelchairs and lifts, glasses and hearing aids, pacemakers and artificial hips and knees, computers, ramps, home remodeling, automobile adaptive equipment, shoes, walkers, canes, crutches, blood pressure monitors, home tele-health equipment, home oxygen, hospital beds, blind aids and items of daily living.  All these devices and services are free of charge to all Veterans, regardless of their status or medical condition.  This care is available at all 153 VA medical centers at a cost of around $2 billion for 2012.  I say this only to educate everyone about the exceptional care offered to our Nation's heroes.
I don’t know why my Daddy joined the Army at the age of 16.  What inspired him to serve his country? Did he want to escape the desperate poverty of his home?  Was he tired of the endless days of working and the endless meals of beans and the occasional biscuit?  Was he leaving behind a mean-spirited and selfish father who was in actuality, and not for dramatic effect, a sharecropper?  It begs the question, why my brother joined the Air Force?  Was he escaping a life that while it was not exactly one of poverty, wasn’t so far removed as to be comfortable?  Why didn’t I join the military?  My aversion to authority aside, wouldn’t it have given me an escape?
Regardless of the whys, he and others like him offered themselves to keep this country great.  That, and that alone, is reason enough to honor them today and every other day.  I take pride in the fact that I help Veterans, like my Daddy.  This is what gets me up every morning and gets me to work.  I love the energy of a hospital.  We help people.  Many have questioned my decision to leave a very cushy job in Washington, DC to return to the “front lines” to run a hospital department, but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized what’s important to me in my career and that is simply a sense of pride in helping people.  I’m not driven by a title; I’m driven by a sense of obligation to give back to those who gave so much, where I can see them and talk to them and, selfishly, receive their gratitude.
Regardless of a Veteran’s length of service or position in the military, the fact that they offered everything they had, up to and including, their life if necessary is something that compels us to honor them.  It’s not just another day off for federal employees or another inconvenient day when the banks to close. It’s a way for us to honor those who honored us by offering their all.  It’s not often I quote Billy Ray Cyrus, but his song sums it up best:  All gave some; some gave all. 
I capitalize Veteran as I'm used to doing so at work.  VA Secretary Eric Shinseki started this several years ago as a sign of respect and I like it.  It's one small way to remind ourselves, as VA employees, why we come to work every day - to serve those who serve(d).
So, tell a Veteran thank you.  If you’re traveling, thank the soldier you see in uniform at the airport.  Buy him, or her, a drink or a meal.  Let them know how much you appreciate their service.  We can go to church, protest anything we want and blog about our crazy redneck Daddys, but only because the members of our armed forces willingly sacrificed for our freedoms.
Just because “Freedom isn’t Free” is a cliché, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

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