A better way to honor the military

Today we pay homage to U.S. military veterans with parades, speeches and official commemorations, but perhaps the best tribute would be to improve the way we help those who wore a uniform overcome a foe that for far too many has been deadlier than enemy bombs or bullets: suicide.

A 2012 Department of Veterans Affairs study found that 8,000 veterans take their own lives annually - about 22 every day. More troubling, the suicide rate for veterans has increased 2.6 percent each year from 2005 to 2011, and today one out of every five U.S. suicides involves a veteran.

This newspaper is encouraged that the VA appears to be taking the problem seriously, announcing last week that it has hired 815 additional peer-to-peer councilors to help veterans struggling with mental health issues. Four months earlier the VA completed hiring 1,600 other mental health providers, responding to a directive by President Barack Obama that cabinet agencies work together to expand suicide prevention efforts for troops and veterans.

As reported in the newspaper Army Times, President Obama also directed the veterans crisis line to expand its capacity by 50 percent and that procedures be developed to ensure that veterans considered a danger to themselves or others connect with a trained mental health professional within 24 hours.

Too many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol abuse, a lethal combination when they also can't find a job and have nowhere to turn. Counselors need to identify veterans struggling with these challenges, and to help them develop solutions.

Today's national holiday originally was called Armistice Day, celebrating the end to fighting in World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

Actually, The Great War didn't officially end until June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and President Woodrow Wilson declared an Armistice Day commemoration six months later. A 1938 act of Congress made Nov. 11 a national holiday, and the name was changed to Veterans Day 15 years later at the end of the Korean War.

Unlike Memorial Day, which pays tribute to military personnel who died in or as the result of combat, the VA says today's holiday is intended to honor all those in uniform, whether they served during wartime or peace.

As the department says on its website, "Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served - not only those who died - have sacrificed and done their duty."

This newspaper applauds that sentiment, and also appreciates the fact that the original holiday really was a celebration of peace.

We should all welcome a day when all Americans, uniformed and non-uniformed alike, salute that notion.

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