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In: Opinions & Features

11.10.2015 | The Star Ledger

By Steve Brozak

To read the entire article on The Star Ledger, please click here.

The history of holidays in the United States has been to turn religious, national, or social occasions into revenue opportunities. It has happened with Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, and of course, Halloween, which now accounts for $6.9 billion in revenue.

Now, the biggest store chain in America is making a revenue event of Veterans Day: Wal-Mart launched its “Greenlight a Vet” campaignfor Nov. 11, complete with an expensively-produced television commercials.

The retail behemoth suggests that you buy and put up a green light bulb, a bulb you will probably need to replace the next Nov. 11. Yes, they say that profits from the sales go to vet support groups. But what will a campaign started by Wal-Mart 16 days prior to Veterans Day really do? Will it actually inspire Americans to reflect on those heroes who have protected this country for more than 200 years and those who are fighting now? Or will it mostly benefit the nation’s largest company, and remind shoppers about its brand?

This gesture of placing a light bulb in the window and asking people to show their appreciation for the 7.3 percent of us who actively serve or have served in the military sounds thoughtful. But it is ultimately a symbolic, feel-good gesture, not unlike the yellow ribbons on automobiles after 9/11 that have since fallen off, or the now-tattered flags on overpasses. It is time we ask ourselves how we can do more, because so much more needs to be done.

Veterans in the U.S. account for some 20 percent of the nation’s suicides. On average, 22 veterans commit suicide daily, many of them are older veterans from Vietnam. And tonight, close to 60,000 veterans will go to sleep homeless, including thousands who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are disquieting numbers and should make us think about what gestures have authentic impact.

The Veterans Administration helps vets with education, health care and other services. Yes, the largest hospital system in the U.S. has problems, but the reality is that most VA hospitals try to do a good job caring for vets. Thanks to increased budgets, VA services are improving every day. By telling your elected officials to fully fund the VA, you are helping vets succeed.

These days, many Americans stop veterans at airports, shopping malls and along the streets to thank veterans for their sacrifices. But, we didn’t serve to earn your thanks. We served because we believed it was the right thing to do. If you want to honor a vet, there are much more meaningful gestures you can make.

  • Call a 90-year-old World War II vet when you go to the grocery store and ask if he needs anything.
  • If you own a business, hire a young vet, or just buy from a vet-owned business.
  • Give food or personal items to a local group that is sending packages to deployed service men and women, and ask your pastor, priest or rabbi to say a prayer during religious services for the safe return of men and women deployed to dangerous places in the world.
  • Help a vet write a résumé. Volunteer at a VA hospital or at a nonprofit that supports vets. And, if you live near a family where a mother or father are deployed, make sure their lawn gets mowed, the leaves are picked up in a timely way and volunteer to babysit their child so they can have some alone time.

When most men and women leave military service, their chief aim is to live a normal life – to be employed, to own a car and a home, to marry and send their kids to a good school. It is tougher for vets to do this than for someone who enters the job force right out of high school or college – especially in New Jersey, which had the second-highest unemployment for veterans in 2015. That’s a clear sign we’re not doing our jobs with job training and job placement.

Make no mistake: Every vet appreciates and needs his neighbor’s goodwill. We only ask that you help those vets who cannot help themselves, and assist in a challenging transition back to civilian life. That kind of help truly makes the light go on.

Steve Brozak retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Marine Corps in 2004. He served on active duty and as a reservist for 22 years.