Thank you to all our Veterans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. On Friday, November 11, 2016 our nation will observe Veterans Day; a day when all Veterans are recognized and thanked for serving in the U.S. military. Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. It became a nationally observed holiday on November 11, 1938 recognizing all Veterans. When I reflect upon Veterans Day, I cannot stop thinking of how much more support today’s Veterans have had compared to in the past. There are now many resources and programs available to help Veterans gain access to education, employment, and health care, in order to improve their quality of life.
Veterans Community Action Teams (VCAT) provides access for Veterans through a network of local, state, and federal supports. Getting help to those Veterans requires that people and organizations are willing to make connections. Several weeks ago, the West Michigan Veterans Coalition - Region 4 VCAT was contacted by the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) to assist with finding transportation for a Grand Rapids Vietnam Veteran to the Traverse City area to participate in the Mid-Michigan Honor Flight. Mid-Michigan Honor Flight is part of the Honor Flight Network, which transports Veterans across America to see their memorials. After speaking with MVAA, contacting the Veteran’s VA Social Worker who was originally initiating the request, and then the Region 2 VCAT, I was directed to the DAV Chapter 38 for additional transportation support. Rides were set and coordinated. I learned that for this Veteran—let’s call him Joe--this trip was about recovery and closure. It was important that Joe make the trip to Washington D.C. to visit his fallen comrades on the Vietnam Wall. Just a year earlier, Joe had found himself struggling with PTSD and depression, and had been contemplating suicide as a way out. He reached out to the Wyoming VA Health Care Clinic in Michigan, where a support group was meeting. Figuring there was nothing to lose, he decided to attend. Something life changing happened at that meeting. He was able to meet other Vietnam Veterans who had similar struggles, and a passionate VA Social Worker. She assisted Joe by connecting him with the information, resources, and programs he needed to support his recovery. That day was the beginning of his journey.
Ultimately, Joe made it to Washington D.C., where he was able to see the names of his fallen comrades, to reflect, and come to peace about the losses. That same day Joe, and the other Veterans that participated in the Honor Flight flew back to the Traverse City Airport. To their astonishment, they were greeted by over 500 cheering people holding American Flags and showing their support. He was surprised to see so many people. I asked Joe, “was it what you thought?” Joe paused, and as he fought back the tears, and said “It was amazing”. He continued to express to me his gratitude for the opportunity to get closure, and appreciation for all the support and coordination that made this trip possible. He spoke of his memories of returning from Vietnam, coming home to a country that was in protest of the war and his service. He said he couldn’t take his uniform off fast enough. Joe had not talk much about his experience in Vietnam before attending that first support group. This trip gave him a new perspective and energy to move forward in his journey to recovery.
Every day the Veterans Community Action Teams work together serving Veterans and their families. They ensure that every Veteran who comes through the network gets the information and resources that they need; whether it is getting connected to services or a ride to an Honor Flight. The important thing is that we honor Veterans by making the connections to serve them better.