Lip service is a poor trade for the real thing
“Stand up, Dad,” my daughter kept insisting. But there was simply no way that was going to happen.
The setting was a major league baseball stadium. As part of a pregame tribute, the public address announcer had just requested that any fans who had served in the military please rise.
Many did, and a thunderous ovation soon followed. It was a thoughtful, feel-good kind of moment.
“Why didn't you get up?” my incredulous teenage daughter wanted to know afterward.
“I would have been too embarrassed,” I said. After all, a white lie semed preferable to a prolonged conversation about the real beneficiaries of such public displays of affection.
In fact, I have always found these good-intended gestures to be somewhat bittersweet.
The reality for yours truly is that such events can help those delivering the applause forget or ignore a deeper problem. Namely, how miserably poor so many of our veterans have been and continue to be treated.
Don't get me wrong. The recognition ceremonies and honor flights and so on are noble gestures. And I have no doubt they are done with good intentions.
But what about the rest of the story? I was reminded of this shortcoming last week, as we reported that ratings for veterans' nursing homes were finally being released. You'd think that in 2018 this would be public knowledge. But the scores were so consistently lousy that those who would have been humiliated by their release worked long and hard to keep them under wraps.
Not surprisingly, officials at first said reports of widespread underperformance at VA facilities were “misleading.” Then they made a big fuss about a newfound commitment to quality care. Apparently, they experienced some kind of sudden epiphany. As the Church Lady from “Saturday Night” Live used to say, “Well, isn't that special?”
The test of whether you support the Constitution is not waving a flag on the Fourth of July. It's whether you allow hate-filled Nazis to march through your neighborhood. Even if you have to hold your nose while doing so.
Similarly, the test of whether veterans are appreciated is not applause at a public venue. It's whether we as a nation live up to our end of the bargain after they have lived up to theirs.
Do we do what we can to repair minds and bodies ruined by such service? Do we get them the help they need while transitioning back to civilian life? Do we help them live out their final years as well as possible?
As the latest findings on VA facilities illustrate, the way we continue to treat too many veterans is nothing to cheer about.
John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director and a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps.