November 10, 2014

Veteran shaking hands with young active duty service memberTaken from The U.S. Army flickr page. Photo by Sgt. Cody Quinn

As an Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, I saw many things. Some good, some bad but all would change my life forever. Now, when holidays come up I look at these experiences in a more hopeful light.

This is what I would love to see for Veterans Day.

On this day, our nation takes time to say “thank you” to recognize veterans and service members for their dedication to duty. In towns across this great nation there will be parades of veterans who have served in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan and some who have served in ways we will never know. They served us, only asking that our nation should honor the contract under which they enlisted.

In the parades, you will see floats, nice cars and bands from all over. You will see military vehicles and flags from all of the different branches of the military: the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, the National Guard, the Reserve, prisoners of war and those missing in action. It is an opportunity for civilians in communities nationwide to see where and when their family, friends and neighbors have served. Veterans’ services organizations (VSO) join the parade as vets serving their fellow vets. The parade in my town will have a representative of the NAMI Veterans and Military Council along with the Disabled American Vets (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans’ Association (IAVA), AMVETS, American Legion, Wounded Warrior Project and others.

On this day, I ask that you not only show your gratitude to our nation’s veterans by going to these events, but also think how you can help them directly. Every day, 22 veterans die by suicide. These people served our country and put their lives on the line for our freedoms. We can honor them better.

Take time to learn about benefits and services available to veterans and explore what is still needed. Ask a veteran what would help them be more supported by their own community. Let them know you are with NAMI. Use your support group skills to listen if they want to talk about the issues that haunt them—and respect their silence if they don’t. If you recognize the veterans in your life today, when the next Veterans Day rolls around, you will have been part of honoring their service.

From this veteran and NAMI, I would like to thank all veterans by standing with vets and their families in times of need as well as in times of good health. To NAMI, every day is Veterans’ Day. We honor and support our nation’s veterans year round. And like others on the NVMC, even though my time in the service is over, my time to serve veterans will never end.

On this Veteran’s Day, in a country where people have made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedom, I urge you to ask yourself these questions:

Will you serve our nation’s veterans?

Will you take time to understand them?

Will you help them get the care they need and deserve?

Will you help their families and love ones as well?

Do it for the same reasons they did: to support the person standing to their left and their right; to make sure that you and I have the freedoms that we enjoy every day.

Daniel Williams is the chair of the NAMI National Veterans and Military Council (NVMC).

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