Purple Hearts

Today is Veterans’ Day, 2014. What began as Armistice Day at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, marking the cessation of combat on the Western Front of  what became known as World War 1, is now a day to honor our military Veterans beyond WW1. (The last U.S. World War 1 veteran died in February, 2011 at age 110.)

Today we honor those who served in the armed forces. The last year has highlighted the ways in which we have not honored veterans the rest of the year, especially when the VA scandal revealed staggering incompetence and data manipulation that put veterans’ health and lives at risk. While VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has been replaced with Robert McDonald, the dysfunction is being sorted out and reorganization is slowly being implemented.  Last night, McDonald announced a complete restructuring of the department, designed to make it easier for veterans to access information and service. This restructuring is the largest in the department’s history, as it seeks to focus on actual customer service for the agency that serves 22 million veterans.Veterans should not have to thank the VA for their service.

The VA scandal was more than a disservice to those who served in our military. The scandal became yet another example of dysfunctional government. Democrats and Republicans may have agreed on the unacceptability of the status quo with regard to the VA, but beyond that, they retreated to their posts blaming the other. Actually, the VA scandal was but one of many examples of dysfunctional government whereby governing gets lost to politics, and venom spewed at enemies.

Just a week ago, the midterm elections revealed how few are truly engaged in civics and the political process. PBS reported that the 2014 midterm election turnout was the lowest in 70 years! 36.4 percent of eligible voters turned out in 2014. Attack ads reigned supreme with a dearth of ideas. Policies that have made a difference were ignored. Preying on fears and the tribalism that we call party politics has yielded us a midterm election decided by the lowest turnout in 70 years. The combination of disengagement and vitriol  seems to be the norm on the home front, but we would never want our soldiers to carry these behaviors with them. And they deserve better at home!

Today we honor our veterans for their service. They should inspire service in various forms in us. Missions demand engagement and integrity, and actual accomplishment. These are the qualities embodied by the men and women we honor today. Service deserves to be honored, but not through the prism (prison?) of Republican or Democrat– Red or Blue.

Today, on Veterans’ Day, I’m thinking about a purple heart. The Purple Heart has been the traditional military decoration awarded by the President to those wounded or killed while serving in battle against our enemies. This award for heroism reminds us of the incredible sacrifices some have made for the American ideal and to keep enemies from harming American civilians. I imagine an additional purple heart. We may still have red states and blue states, both mental and territorial, but we’ve certainly lost our purple heart.  Today, we can honor veterans through actual support with services and opportunities (healthcare, education, jobs, housing,etc). It will demand service from our own purple hearts–not red or blue– to accomplish missions beyond obstruction and disengagement; towards actually transforming the status quo peacefully.

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