November 11 is one of the most solemn days on the calendar.
On the 11th hour, of the 11th day in the 11th month, Canadians gather, pause and reflect on the sacrifices of those who fought or died in armed conflict or maintaining peace.
In this new century, there are no surviving participants of World War I and other early 20th century struggles. Equally tragic is that every year, there are fewer veterans of the Second World War around to educate and remember.
Fortunately, the families of veterans and those involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, in addition to those who served in more regional conflicts – like the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the War in Iraq, and the War in Afghanistan – are now filling this void.
They are the people who are volunteering with legion branches, visiting schools to give speeches, working with cadet groups, and ensuring people remember, not just on November 11.
Aside from filling more traditional roles, newer veterans especially are shining light on previously unexplored issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affecting former soldiers, assistance for those returning from war with mental and physical injuries and the difficulty in transforming from military to civilian life.
These issues always existed but were never discussed even when the symptoms were obvious.
Many returning veterans have found it difficult or impossible to resume normal lives, some soldiers in the first two World Wars were said to suffer from “shell shock,” rates of alcoholism, homelessness, incarceration, and drug abuse among veterans has always been high.
That is what war can do to human beings. It ravages some by removing limbs and disfiguring bodies, it torments others with horrific memories, constant nightmares, headaches, restlessness, and sleep deprivation.
Because of heightened awareness, there is now more help for veterans than ever before, the bad news is that there wasn’t much help before.
Hopefully, as a result of this new knowledge and a recognition that the financial and institutional assistance currently provided to veterans does not come close to being acceptable, there will be more assistance for those who suffer from apparent and invisible wounds.
These people put their lives on the line for their country, the least this country can do is be there every step of the way in their recovery.
It’s nice that we thank veterans on Remembrance Day, but it’s far more important to put gestures into action to properly acknowledge their sacrifices throughout the year.