Jimmie T. Smith: Going beyond Veterans Day

American Soldiers and US Flag. US Army
Key bills to meet veterans' needs recently approved and pending.
Jimmie T. Smith

While this year will have stark differences, each year on Veterans Day, families, friends, and neighbors admire the parades, gather for barbecues, and otherwise take a moment to celebrate those brave Americans who have answered the call to serve this country.

Our veterans are among our very best as a country, and they deserve the utmost admiration. But the reality of their experiences and the conditions in which they serve can take a toll. It is important to realize that while a veteran may have separated from active duty service, sometimes the invisible scars of war persist, and the veteran must now confront the war within.

As a country, we are forever indebted to the selfless service of our veterans and all they do for us. In that vein, our country has made a promise to care for those who served once they return home and take off the uniform for the last time. And as a veteran myself, I’d like to take a look past the divisive headlines and grim prognostications of 2020 and bring your attention to an important and laudable thing that happened this year for veterans.

In October, President Donald Trump signed into law a bipartisan bill to provide more tools to reach veterans in need. The law establishes grant programs for mental health services, explores alternative treatments, and requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate veterans’ suicides occurring shortly after leaving service. All of this will improve the future of veterans’ mental health care while expanding treatment options.

There are so many specific challenges veterans face, in peacetime and in war, and I like to think that as Americans, we want to do good by them. We want to help. We want there to be answers. I was heartened to see the measure get broad bipartisan support in Congress.

Promoting innovative care, expanding access to care, and working to address the root causes of veterans’ health issues are fundamental tenets of the VA MISSION Act, a transformative 2018 law that greatly expanded veterans’ access to care. Moving forward, the VA MISSION Act should be expanded to give eligible veterans full choice on where and when they receive care, as Florida Congressman Greg Steube’s legislation, the Veterans’ True Choice Act, does.

There is no one answer to helping veterans, but it matters to the future of the nation because, as pointed out in a quote often attributed to President George Washington, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”

Welcoming our veterans home and expressing our gratitude for their service will always be an important part of who we are as a country. However, we can and should do more to improve their health care options when they return to their communities.”

The VA MISSION Act was a solid start, but we can do better.

While you’re posting your appreciation for our nation’s veterans on social media or responsibly gathering to enjoy the freedoms they defend, let’s also thank those veterans by encouraging our lawmakers to continue working to provide greater access and more health care options for our nation’s bravest.

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Jimmie T. Smith is the Florida coalition director for Concerned Veterans for America. He is retired from the U.S. Army, a former state Representative (2010-16), and current Citrus County Commissioner.

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