When I attended the inauguration earlier this year, I met some amazing people. One of those was a man named Paul Schneeberger. Paul had become involved in military and veterans issues after interviewing some Gold Star Mothers for a film project. (A Gold Star Mother is a mother who has lost a child in battle.) And so, without any personal connection to the military or its families, Paul took up our cause.
Paul and I spent a great deal of time talking about the disconnect between the American public and our military. There is no longer a shared sense of service or responsibility when it comes to the defense of our country. There really hasn't been since the memories of World War II began to fade. Now, only one percent of our nation is at war. The rest of us were told to go shopping.
The problem is that while we were shopping, military families were becoming stretched to their very limit by multiple deployments, injuries, and other unseen wounds like PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury). While the current administration is doing its best to increase funding for the VA, personnel and military families, we're in a recession and a big one at that.
I don't think most of the American public truly understands what the long term costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be. With each deployment, a soldier's chance of serious problems with PTSD greatly increase. We're also seeing brain injuries that the current military and VA medical systems simply aren't equipped to handle.
Yes, many people slap yellow ribbons on their cars and wave flags and say they support the troops. But they don't really know.
Well, it's time that we as a country begin to know, begin to understand and begin to share some responsibility. I'm not suggesting that everyone run out and join the military or that we re-institute the draft. But I am saying that we all need to pay attention to what's happening to our military and to give something back.
I've never met a service member who wasn't proud to serve. Regardless of political belief or beliefs about the war, service members are patriots. They've volunteered their service and their lives to our country. They, and their families, cherish public service in much the same way those who work for nonprofits or join the Peace Corps do. We shouldn't forget that.
So, while Paul and I were discussing what's happened in this country, where Memorial Day and Veterans Day have become more about sales and shopping than tribute, I volunteered my services. And so I became a new media consultant for Beyond Tribute. I fully intended to do it for free; that is how strongly I feel about what Beyond Tribute is doing. But they decided to pay me and I've never been one to turn down a paycheck! (I'm revealing the payment issue in the interests of full disclosure.)
I've mentioned Beyond Tribute on this blog before, but now that the movement is launching this Memorial Day weekend, I can share some more. This moving email about Beyond Tribute is circulating the internet right now and I wanted to share it with everyone. Particularly since it involves Blue Star Families member Pamela Stokes Eggleston and her husband Charles.
Beyond Tribute is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to making Memorial Day and Veterans Day about more than just shopping. It's about teaching Americans to see the days for what they are and to give back to the community, even if shopping is involved.
From: Sgt. Charles Eggleston (Ret.) and Pamela Stokes Eggleston
Subject: Go Beyond Tribute for Veterans
Each Memorial Day and Veterans Day, many of us take time to recognize the sacrifices of those men and women who have served in uniform. But around the country, these solemn holidays often end up meaning little more than a chance to buy things on sale. As a veteran injured in the war in Iraq, I find this so disheartening, as does my family.
I recently retired from the U.S. Army. I was an active Army soldier, served two tours in Iraq, and was a Warrior in Transition (WIT) at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), where I’ve received treatment for the past three years. I received several duty related injuries during both tours in Iraq, most recently in Mosul, Iraq in 2005. I am a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. The other six soldiers in my unit didn’t make it; and I know just how blessed I am to be here today.
During Charles’ tours, I gained weight and I couldn’t sleep. Although I tried to stay busy working, caring for the house and gardening, I constantly worried about Charles. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army did not have a comprehensive outreach program in place to help me or to reach out to the thousands of spouses, families, and friends left behind to deal with long deployments. When my husband returned to Iraq from his R&R (rest and relaxation), I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest.
Shortly after Charles returned to Iraq, he was hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blast. Charles suffered from PTSD and had a mild to moderate TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). I quickly became Charles’ caregiver. I didn’t have any experience with these invisible wounds of war and had no support from the Army. I quickly learned what I needed to know through the internet and in searching out other military families to get us through the tough times.
Due to the trials and tribulations that Walter Reed put my husband through, he has become an advocate for his fellow soldiers, utilizing his time, listening to the call of his heart, and fostering his strong desire to help his wounded comrades in any way possible. We had to fight for so much during Charles’ three-year tenure at Walter Reed, including the right to be respected and the right to receive fair and adequate medical ratings and benefits. I became an unwitting advocate for my husband, writing numerous letters to Congressmen and Senators. We helped bring the many problems at Walter Reed to light.
Pamela and I are now both advocates for the military and its families. It galls us that stores treat the military as simply an advertising hook to get people into stores for Memorial Day sales. It’s time for those stores to give something back to the military.
There are many veterans and military organizations that are truly vested in helping military families and veterans. Organizations like the Wounded Warriors Project and other veterans service organizations are vital to filling the gaps in caring for soldiers and their families, particularly when a soldier returns wounded and cannot work for extended periods of time. The burden for this, and many of our military families, is unfair and unjust. This is where Beyond Tribute can help.
Pamela and I recently became involved with a non-partisan, non-profit group called Beyond Tribute that’s mobilizing people around Memorial Day to convince stores to donate a portion of their holiday weekend proceeds to medical treatment for veterans. By Veterans Day, we hope to be able to raise significant money for veterans in need from the very businesses that usually capitalize on these solemn holidays.
But before businesses will sign on, they need to see that people are committed to truly honoring former service members. Sign the Memorial Day pledge to shop at Beyond Tribute businesses today and together we can do a lot of good for some people who really need it, starting with this Memorial Day:
As an active duty soldier, I believed in my service. I was doing the right thing, regardless of political maneuvering back home. I was serving my fellow soldiers. I was serving America. I was trying to make a difference. By signing the pledge to shop at Beyond Tribute businesses on weekends honoring veterans, you’re doing more than committing to making a difference. You’re also showing businesses that their customers will reward them if they do the right thing. Sign the pledge now:
Anyone who has served, or has a loved one who’s served, knows how important this help is. That’s why people like Walter Cronkite, General Wesley Clark, philanthropist Jerome Kohlberg, and Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City’s Samantha) have joined Beyond Tribute with me and Pamela and pledged to do their shopping at participating businesses, too. Join us in signing the pledge to do your Veterans Day shopping at Beyond Tribute businesses. Then ask your friends and family to do it, too:
The troops we honor are real people, many of whom have very real injuries. This is something we can all do that will really help them.
Thank you for your support,
Charles and Pamela Eggleston
PLEDGE TO GO BEYOND TRIBUTE FOR VETERANS: Memorial Day and Veterans Day should be about more than honoring veterans, they should be about helping those who have sacrificed their health and well-being in the line of duty. I pledge to support services for veterans suffering wounds of war by shopping at Beyond Tribute businesses over Veterans Day weekend.