Would you willingly sacrifice your life for a perfect stranger? If someone sacrificed their life for you, how would you repay that person? Would you take advantage of their protection? Would you throw them out like yesterdays trash once you had drained them of all they had to offer? Would you take away all of their self respect, mental stability, and hope? It sounds absurd to think that you could do any of that to someone who gave you the chance to live a full life, right? Well, it happens every single day! It happens to the men and women who willingly sacrifice for all of us every day so that we can have the freedoms that we so often take advantage of.

Like so many others, this is a subject that sits like bricks on my heart. We have all crossed paths with a soldier at some point in our lives. Maybe it’s a family member, a friend, or a neighbor. When you see these soldiers, do you ever think about all they really sacrifice? They leave their families behind, travel to other countries, endure the worst of climate and terrain, and stand proud to protect and defend this country. When they return home, most have even more battles to fight. I did some research and the statistics were mind altering. Some of the battles they have to face here on the home front are ones that we have all heard about for years such as low incomes, unemployment, homelessness, PTSD, suicide, lack of medical coverage, and much more. They have to face these struggles in the same country that they offered to die for.

Estimates of Homeless Vets by State 2013One in ten veterans are disabled when they return home. Most businesses prefer not to hire a person with disabilities. Most fail to realize that without that disabled veteran, they may not have the freedom to operate that business. No job means no sufficient income. I know most veterans receive government benefits, but let’s be honest, it’s not enough to sustain a household and with all of the recent budget cuts, out Vet’s have taken an extra hit, leaving a staggering 50,000 to 200,000 veterans sleeping on the streets or in a shelter on any given night. Approximately 33% of homeless males are veterans. Women veterans have a four times higher rate of being homeless. They fought for us to sleep peacefully at night and this is the appreciation they receive from the same government they are fighting for. The Department of Veteran Affairs conducted a count on a January night in 2012 on the number of homeless veterans in the United States. An estimated 62,600 veterans were counted as homeless.

After seeing war first hand and coming home to these conditions, a soldier’s morale is extremely weakened and damaged. An estimated 45% of the homeless veterans suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). 11 % – 20% are soldiers who served in Iraq. 10% are soldiers who served in Desert Storm. 30% are soldiers who served in Vietnam. There are support systems in place for returning soldiers with symptoms of PTSD, but sadly, more than 50% do not seek treatment. The rate of suicide among our soldiers is another unimaginable reality. CNN News reported in a recent study that there were 22 veteran suicides every day. They also reported that more than 30% of returning soldiers had experienced thoughts of suicide. Of these soldiers, 69% were over the age of 50.

These men and women have given their all to support and defend this country. It’s heartbreaking to know that for most of them, this is the reality that they come home to. A government that uses them, throws them out like yesterdays trash, and breaks them down with defeat. Next time you see a soldier, active duty or not, please let them know what their sacrifices mean to you and thank them for all of the hard work they do to keep us safe. We, as a united country, need to support our soldiers, regardless of how our government welcomes them once they are home.

“For it has to be said, are that a man hath will he give for his life; and while all contribute of their substance the soldier puts his life at stake and often yields it up in his country’s cause. The highest merit, then is due to the soldier” – Abraham Lincoln