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EDITORIAL: Even after Veterans Day, remember who keeps society afloat

Soldiers, essential workers are critical yet neglected members of public

Pictured above is Arlington National Cemetery, where many of America's soldiers lie. This year is one of the most important ever to appreciate those who sacrifice for the common good. – Photo by Wikimedia

Wednesday was Veterans Day, a holiday instituted by former President Woodrow Wilson following World War I. The holiday, of course, is designed to honor soldiers who have fought with integrity for America and our nation’s interests.

Soldiers obviously deal with a wide array of difficulties. They certainly are not paid comfortably for them either, and outside of the normal traumas of combat and long deployments from home, returning troops often deal with long-term psychiatric issues, even contemporarily.

A huge portion of combat veterans from our most recent large-scale conflicts — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — deal with mental health issues following their terms in the military.

“More than 2 million troops have already been deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight. Almost a third of all service-persons in these ongoing conflicts suffer from some clinically significant mental condition, the poster child for which is PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and their complications of suicide, addiction and domestic or other-directed violence,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Not everybody thinks those wars were justified conflicts, understandably, but the fact is that most of those troops join the military due to financial or occupational concerns — not because they think they are acting nobly by doing so.

“(Forty-seven) percent (of people) believed that troops service either out of patriotism or sense of duty, 43 percent believed they joined for employment and the remaining 10 percent selected desperation … But survey respondents who had served in the military were less likely to cite patriotism and citizenship and more likely to cite the pay and benefits ― 40 percent, compared to 47 percent of those who responded but didn’t have military experience,” according to Military Times.

In addition, these oft-maligned troops return to benefits that are mismanaged by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has a long history of letting down our nation’s soldiers.

This year, though, members of broader American society have begun to finally understand a little bit of the plight of veterans. Essential workers (particularly in the medical field) during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic have dealt with stresses similar to veterans during this crisis.

This is not to say that the experience of combat veterans completely mirrors those of our essential workers. Veterans deal with psychological torment of a far higher caliber due to the wildly intense, life-and-death nature of their struggle. But essential workers have faced some surface-level similarities. 

For instance, much like veterans, some essential workers have to endure hazardous conditions — COVID-19 itself — with scant protection and indecent compensation.

“Like the higher-paid doctors and nurses they work alongside, (some) essential workers are risking their lives during the pandemic — but with far less prestige and recognition, very low pay and less access to the protective equipment that could save their lives,” according to Brookings.

On top of that, nurses and doctors, who do tend to enjoy quality compensation, have already reported mental health difficulties due to the chaotic and traumatic state of their COVID-19 imbued hospitals. One piece from the Scientific American explains how doctors and nurses may face psychological harm during the pandemic.

"Trauma is often associated with something overtly violent, such as a car accident or a shooting. But Dutch philosopher Ciano Aydin describes a situation as traumatic when it ‘violates’ familiar expectations about someone’s life and world, sending them into a ‘state of extreme confusion and uncertainty.’ In the case of this pandemic, prolonged uncertainty is compounded by the moral anguish health care professionals face when they do not have adequate resources to treat critically ill patients … ” according to Scientific American.

While we are not directly comparing the plight of veterans and the struggles of the essential worker, there are certainly lessons to be learned from their scenarios.

Soldiers, veterans and essential workers are all critical to the infrastructure of our society, yet our government and institutions routinely neglect them. For essential (and all) workers, government-backed paid sick leave would help financially insecure people retain a semblance of safety. For both veterans and essential workers, subsidized health care would help manage their psychological issues down the road.

But if one thing is for certain we — including us at Rutgers, who benefit from the University’s fair share of essential workers — cannot take them for granted. A meager “thank you” is not enough — we must demand change to show our appreciation. 

Right now, an important way to show care for our healthcare system is to take the pandemic seriously. Cases are growing at a frightening pace — on Wednesday, the U.S. recorded 142,860 new infections. Without proper care and precaution, and without demanding change, you cannot say you appreciate our nation’s most important members — we all should work to do better.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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