Serving veterans

The following editorial appeared in The Greensboro News & Record on Nov. 11:

What we say about those who serve in our armed forces is one thing.

What we do, all too often, is another.

That became painfully clear in the case of “patriotic” tributes to the military at National Football League games that turned out to be paid advertising. For pre-game jet flyovers and majestic unfurlings of Old Glory, tearful reunions and even some performances of the national anthem, a multibillion-dollar business, the NFL, was sending the military a bill.

As were teams in other professional sports. Since 2012, the Department of Defense spent $6.8 million for “sports marketing activities,” according to a report commissioned by Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Among those for whom supporting the troops paid handsomely were the Atlanta Falcons, who received $879,000; the Atlanta Braves ($450,000), the Buffalo Bills ($650,000) and, ironically, the New England Patriots ($700,000). Closer to home, the Carolina Panthers weren’t mentioned in the 145-page report, but the Charlotte Hornets were. The team contends that the $25,000 it received from the Air Force was strictly for recruitment activities, not for an on-court ceremony swearing in new recruits.

The NFL has said its teams will refund what they were paid. But these “ceremonies” point out, with embarrassing clarity, how wide the chasm can be between civilians and those who pay the cost for military service — some with their lives.

An Iraq infantry veteran questioned the prefab displays themselves and wondered whether they have become feel-good substitutes for sober discussions about war. “These manufactured displays can have the unfortunate side effect of anesthetizing the American public as our leaders again consider committing more troops to war without well-defined objectives,” Will Bardenwerper wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Monday.

When we say thank you, it should be from the heart, not packaged and sold like toothpaste or fast food. And it should come in tangible programs and services that help our veterans resume productive lives as civilians. For instance, a worthy proposal by U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro would provide veterans with tax credits to start their own businesses. Sustained attention to the VA health system, which has been plagued by scandalous delays in medical appointments, also would make a substantive difference.

A survey released Tuesday by Disabled American Veterans found that only 18 percent believe they have received the benefits they were promised; 59 percent say civilians don’t understand what veterans have experienced. Nearly two-thirds who have fought in recent wars say their military qualifications don’t translate smoothly to civilian job opportunities.

But here’s the rub: The survey also says the majority of veterans still see the value in serving their country and would do it again.

For that we should thank you. And really mean it.


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