A Missing Link in Veterans Day, and beyond

What comes to mind when you consider Veterans Day? Freedom and liberty, oath of service, commitment to others, sacrifice, military honors … are a few of the words to describe our nation’s veterans. According to Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, a veteran is “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.”

Within that broad definition, there are full-time active duty members, part-time members (serving two of six years on full-time duty), reservists in every branch (delivering support to active-duty forces), Army and Air National Guard (living as civilians in communities but training one weekend per month plus 15 full-time training days annually), the Active Guard/Reserves (AGR), and Individual Ready Reserves (IRR). That is quite a summary, considering only 1% of the population are currently voluntarily protecting our freedom, isn’t it? All veterans, current and former, deserve our gratitude on Veterans Day and beyond.

All who serve are considered veterans, yet not all will be eligible for veteran benefits. My father served eight years in the Army National Guard, faithfully showing up for training every month. In caregiving for him and my mother over the past five years, the same question was repeatedly asked of me, “Have you applied for the aid and attendance benefit.” My answer reflected an unfortunate result of the way my father chose to serve.  You see, “since his guard unit was not activated he is not eligible for veteran benefits, including the aid and attendance for long term care, nor burial benefits.

There is no military ID card for those who have served our nation in such committed part-time status. When it comes to Veterans Day recognition they are often tasked with digging up proof. To make the bulletin board of veterans at the assisted living facility, my father’s photo in uniform wasn’t enough. Finding semblance of an 86-year-old man in his 21-year-old face was apparently too challenging for the staff. Thankfully, I was able to provide his certificates of service and discharge, proving his commitment to our nation from 1950 to 1958 (while also working two jobs and caring for his wife and five children).

They are considered veterans yet their service recognition may fall into the background, becoming seamlessly bonded with another. Such is the case for veterans like Jeremy Hilton. When he humbly and gratefully accepted the military spouse of the year award, many undoubtedly learned that he served in a couple of other significant military family capacities. As a military spouse caring for a daughter born with a number of disabilities, he also took on a leadership role of advocating for other families affected by chronic medical conditions and disabilities.

Jeremy Hilton has briefed the Congressional Military Family Caucus and provided guidance to staff in the White House and the U.S. Department of Defense (among others). In all his efforts to move mountains for military families, he is seen under the lens of military spouse versus veteran. One label has seems to mask the other. Knowing Jeremy, it is not of great concern as long as his advocacy efforts bring positive changes for families in need.

Interestingly, I discovered that as of this month, the VA began issuing identification cards to help veterans prove military service and receive access to government benefits and discounts from restaurants and stores. An extensive list of best Veterans Day deals for 2017 was published at Task and Purpose.com – you can check that out here.

Veterans who may qualify for an official photo ID Card include those with a service-connected disability rating, medical conditions incurred while in service, and other unique circumstances (per the Veterans Administration). Some businesses accept a photo of a veteran in uniform; granted it wasn’t taken at 21 and you’re now 86. While others utilize the honor system; if you say you’re a veteran that’s good enough.

Another recognition gap occurred to me after providing a workshop to other veterans.  The Military Experience and the Arts Symposium brought more light to war’s fall-out: struggles to find a new normal after watching comrades die in arms, concerns over being an ill-equipped, wounded parent, coping with fear of failure as a civilian, and more. The transition out of military service certainly has its challenges; most of which are overcome, thanks to vast support networks.

The one thing I have yet to see is an integrated ID card. “Once a veteran, always a veteran” … so they say. But once you’ve served more than half your life as a military spouse, after serving on active duty (for less than half of those spouse years), the two become seamless and the other becomes unrecognizable.

Where’s the ID card that recognizes a veteran/dependent spouse?  Surely, I am not alone in this capacity; I am one of thousands, as is Jeremy Hilton. The new Veteran ID card being issued by the VA doesn’t solve the dilemma either. My service time didn’t include war time; it appears I do not fit their “veteran” designation. It boils down to the reason I began the mission of Hope Matters:

If you see something missing, maybe God’s telling you to do it. 

I have not researched the numbers to support a petition for change. I have not taken a poll on Facebook. I have not reached out to other veterans/dependent spouses to ask for their thoughts. I have not looked deep enough to see if an integrated service ID card has been previously proposed. So, this Veterans Day, let the process begin.

Would you be willing to sign a petition? Can you offer any advice to begin such a petition? It is not about benefits or applause. It will not ignite fireworks over the Capitol or be shouted from anyone’s rooftop. Still, it makes sense to advocate for an overdue change in how ID cards are issued to veteran/spouses. It is about being proud to be a Veteran; proud to have served our one nation under God. It is about giving a timeless voice to “once a Veteran, always a Veteran”. Together, we can fill a recognition gap in faithful service.

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