Op-Ed: David W. Walker, Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes

Today – the 11th day of the 11th month — we honor all Veterans. Though my particular group, the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, is dedicated to helping wounded veterans, we salute and honor all who have served our country. In the Battle of Britain, when Great Britain was saved by the heroics of a relative handful of fighter pilots, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that never before have so many owed so much to so few. I believe that sentiment is appropriate for us today – never before have so many Americans owed so much to so few.
The reality is that in today’s world, a very small percentage of Americans wear the uniform. That makes it all the more important that we should honor them – to let them know the majority of their fellow citizens appreciate the sacrifices they make on our behalf. There are many private groups active today supporting veterans. I believe all of us together have been very effective in raising public awareness of the heroic sacrifices made by our people in uniform.
The primary reason for my organization, the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, is to provide direct financial support to wounded veterans returning from the battlefield to help them cover expenses while they wait for their benefits to be approved. A few years ago, that process was routinely taking months. Today the situation is much better, usually only a few weeks.  But there is still a gap that must be filled.
Of course, all veterans – and especially wounded veterans – have a challenge making the transition from the military to the civilian workforce.  It’s a different world than what they are used to. One of our most effective programs is to bring groups of them together with career counselors who help them make the adjustment.
I am pleased to say that the work of the Veterans Administration, and in particular the veterans hospital facilities, are being improved. There is still much to be done, but the VA is making progress. Perhaps our biggest challenge is helping veterans contending with the effects of post-traumatic stress. This is not just a psychological phenomenon. Recent studies confirm that proximity to explosions disrupts the chemical balance of the brain. Counseling is useful but PTSD is also a physical issue.
We are having promising success with experimental treatments for post- traumatic stress. An example is hyperbaric chamber oxygen therapy, a process similar to that used to help deep water divers adjust to normal atmospheric conditions. Also, for some reason we are finding that working with horses is therapeutic for veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress.
The magnitude of this challenge cannot be overstated. Veterans have a much higher rate of suicide than the overall population. At the Coalition, we spend a lot of time just talking to veterans in stress – listening, providing support and sympathy.
On this Veterans Day, it is fitting that all of us should acknowledge the debt we owe to the people who serve in uniform, and make that consciousness part of our daily lives. It is all well and good to stand in their honor at ball games or salute veterans in parades, but there is a critical need, on a fundamental level, to recognize that our basic freedoms are daily won by their courage and sacrifice, and to convey that recognition to our children. It is the least that we can do.
David W. Walker
President & CEO
Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes

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