The recent deaths of Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen Hancock, 20, of Coal City, and U.S. Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen, 19, of Mokena, are sober reminders that serving one’s country as a member of the military is not easy or safe.
Being in the military is risky right from the start. Injuries occur during basic training. There’s the loneliness of separation from loved ones and the terror of combat if deployed. Once home, these men and women face post-traumatic stress syndrome, which can lead to vivid nightmares, substance abuse and depression.
The risks don’t end there. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, other potential hazards include:
• Metals, such as shrapnel, that remain in the body after injury
• Traumatic brain injury caused by explosions
• Contaminated water
• Side effects from certain military vaccinations and medications
• Infectious diseases
• Diseases from animal bites and/or saliva
• According to a 2012 Suicide Data Report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 22 veterans died from suicide each day in 2010.
• The National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans reported that in 2009, an estimated 107,000 veterans were homeless.
This should not be.
These men and women risked their lives – and their future health and happiness – for us and the freedoms many of us take for granted, instead of cherish. Talk to any veteran. Chances are, he or she could add a few more dangers to this list and share personal stories to illustrate them.
It was overwhelming to see the reception that Stephen and Aaron received from our local communities when they were brought home to be laid to rest. Yellow ribbons were tied around trees and lampposts, marquees on local stores were changed to offer prayers and condolences to their families, and thousands lined the streets with American flags in their hands and tears in their eyes, to honor hometown boys who gave all.
It was a proper and fitting tribute. But care cannot only be shown and provided when our servicemen and women return after they have given all.
Those who serve in the military deserve the best physical and mental health care possible, an issue we hope our lawmakers take more seriously and provide more oversight for in the future.
On a more personal level, we can send care packages and letters to our troops who are serving, to remind them the risks they shoulder to guarantee our freedoms aren’t in vain. Or give a simple handshake and a heartfelt “thank you” when you see an active-duty military member or veteran.
We enjoy freedoms citizens of other counties can only dream about. This is the least we can do for those who defend that freedom.