For many Americans, Memorial Day has come to signify the unofficial start of summer — going on beach vacations, having barbecues and picnics, splashing in the pool with kids. However, the true meaning of Memorial Day is to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifices while fighting in the U.S. Armed Forces. It’s a solemn holiday that pays tribute to the ordinary people who have been asked to do extraordinary things. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings, and participating in services or parades to honor those who have lost their lives in service to our country.
For those who have protected our country’s democracy and freedoms, military service is more than a duty or obligation. It is a privilege. Stephen Moss, one of the founding chairs and the current national chairperson for United Way’s MISSION UNITED, says: “I served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and my daughter served in the U.S. Army during the Iraq War. Every year, Memorial Day is especially meaningful for my family and me. It’s a day of reflection and remembrance for the brave men and women who have served our country and lost their lives.”
For many Veterans who survived, as well as the families of those who lost their lives, Memorial Day often can be a time when they feel the weight of loss more deeply. They struggle with the loss or trauma they’ve had when remembering their comrades or loved ones who have died in the line of duty. This year, Moss reminds us “to take some time this Memorial Day to remember and honor the millions of men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice when serving our country, and as a result, ensured the incredible freedoms that all of us cherish.” For him, “Memorial Day is a time for both commemoration for those we have lost and gratitude for all they have given. And it is reminder that each one of us can give something back to our country as well.”
Most Americans have known someone with military connections, and in recent years, there has been great progress in the professional concerns for the mental health of Veterans. Sobering examples of the challenges to Veteran well-being include that 1 in 3 Veterans doesn’t get the mental health services he or she needs and that an average of 17 Veterans commit suicide every day. In 2020 suicide was the second leading cause of death among Veterans under the age of 45*.
United Way is here to change these numbers. There are a variety of mental health services and programs, both at national and local levels, that are accessible to Military personnel, Veterans, and their families, caregivers and survivors.
Here are some ways that Veterans and their loved ones can get free help:
- Call the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988. This confidential crisis support is available 24/7 for Veterans and their loved ones. You also can send a text to 838255, or go to www.VeteransCrisisLine.net. You don't have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to call.
- Click here to view a map of local United Ways that offer services to Veterans and their family members.
- View the multiple resources on the VA’s website that support mental health and well-being for Veterans.
United Way’s MISSION UNITED also is an exceptional resource, providing comprehensive care to thousands of Veterans and their families with outreach, case management and resiliency services, including counseling for mental health.
Again, as many of us enjoy a long weekend, let’s take time on Monday to commemorate the courageous Veterans who are no longer with us that have protected our country.
* Source: 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report