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Our View: Keeping vets in mind every day

Besides honoring our veterans on Saturday with parades, American flags flying, free deals at restaurants, car washes and other establishments, we wondered what’s on the minds of local vets.

The vets we know straddle a range of experiences and are each their own person. Yet, how do they see themselves as a group, a voting bloc, a collective voice?

The state of veterans seems to come in and out of our national consciousness, with reminders on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. But we’re interested in how they feel on a daily basis, as well as our moral responsibilities toward them. For example, how do veterans best voice concerns about bad U.S. policies that could result in Congress having a hand in more wars?

And something we learned in conversations with vets: Reaching closely connected family members and involving them in veterans’ care may be most effective in delivering what they need and want.

We’d like every day to be Veterans Day by including former service members in more discussions on national and local levels. So, we went straight to the source and asked Mike Benton, commander of Durango VFW Post 4031, to share questions at a membership meeting. A combination of responses follow:

1. At this time, what is the best way to thank veterans for their service and show respect for their sacrifices?

– An actual paid day off from work would be nice. This was a favorite.

– Saying “thank you” in person always goes a long way.

– Durango High School’s Veterans Day Assembly on Wednesday with music from the school band and choir, tributes and the Missing Man Ceremony, was awesome and much appreciated.

2. What do veterans need most now?

– Housing, across the board. The issues are many fold. Across the nation, housing solutions exist, enacted by different organizations that are working for different reasons. These solutions just haven’t propagated in the U.S. well enough.

3. A political question. Candidates court veterans for votes. Thoughts?

– Some members say it’s OK, others say it’s not. It can seem like empty “lip-service,” especially if political candidates don’t have an established track record of working for veterans and active duty service members.

– Vets want to engage with politicians “only if they’re going to listen.”

– It would be nice if candidates would check in with veterans more regularly and consistently.

– Some in elected positions, including La Plata County commissioners, participate in constructive ways that have more to do with the community and less to do with political careers. They volunteer to help judge applications for the Patriots Pen and Voice of Democracy scholarships, which are wonderful programs where students can share their voices at a national level. Scholarships range from $5,000 to $35,000.

4. Americans have talked about the ethics of discussing the entire spectrum of risks for service members – while deployed and afterward – when recruiters show up at high schools to enlist young people. Feelings about this?

– The membership agreed that this is a question recruiters should answer.

5. The VFW is nonpartisan but some changes would need to come through Congress. How do vets negotiate things like U.S. policies?

– The VFW and other national-level veterans organizations generally have a process in which they can raise issues, up and through the posts and districts, to be voted on at councils of administration, department (state) conferences and national conventions before they move toward Capitol Hill.

6. We often hear that the Department of Veterans Affairs is barely functional. Is this still the case? Is the VFW behind efforts to change this?

– The DVA has improved greatly over the years. The VFW was founded in 1899 with a mission to help service members receive the benefits they deserve with the motto, “No one does more for veterans.” The VFW and other veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, Wounded Warrior Project and more have been instrumental in what the DVA is today, constantly advocating for veterans’ rights and care. The number and diversity of programs across these organizations has grown over the years. Chances are, if there’s a need among veterans and their families, there is a program for it.

7. Anything else?

Veterans Day is the Memento Vitae – Remember Life of our Patriotic Holidays. Remember these Americans and honor their sacrifices. While service and combat may have ended, the battle can still continue. You’re not alone. If you or someone you know is in crisis, do not hesitate to ask for help. Call the Veterans Crisis line, 988 and PRESS 1 or TEXT 838255.

We’ll see you at Veterans Day parades in Durango, starting at 11 a.m. on Main Avenue, and in Cortez at 1 p.m. on Montezuma Avenue. As veterans walk by, we’ll stand under our flag with hats off and right hands on hearts, reflecting how they’ve protected our Constitution and our freedoms.