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Should Veteran’s Day Be A County Holiday?

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Editor’s note: This is in response to Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller urging Mecklenburg to add Veteran’s Day as a County holiday.  Read the story HERE.  

Below is the text of an email I just sent to my fellow Commissioners regarding the proposal to give Veterans’ Day as a holiday to all county employees. It is lengthy. My fellow vets, I would appreciate hearing from you. Am I off my rocker, or do you agree? Thank you for your comments.

Commissioners,

I did not know about the excellent idea of offering Veterans Day as a holiday before reading it in the paper this morning, and I would like to take a few minutes to address this topic. While I strongly support the desire to do more to honor veterans, I would like to offer my perspective as an Iraq War veteran.

Today, we find a lot of companies and communities making some efforts an honoring veterans. Whether it is a day off, a “we hire vets” initiative, or a free meal on Veterans’ Day, there is a positive effort at honoring vets. So strong is this feeling, that saying, “thank you for your service” is almost obligatory when one finds themselves in the presence of a vet. I remember being at a job interview and giving some background information about myself for a couple of minutes. The interviewer then began to ask me a question about a project I had completed, and then said, “oh, um, I mean, of course, thanks for your service” and then proceeded to finish the question. The point is, sometimes the thanks that we try to offer veterans falls flat because it just seems like it has to be said or done.

Many companies today tout their “we hire veterans” initiatives. If you go to the careers section of websites, you’ll often see a section about hiring veterans. While those efforts are appreciated and should be commended, they often don’t resonate with veteran job seekers. I have spoken with many veterans about such initiatives, and I keep hearing, “yeah, the only veterans who get those jobs are veterans in their 30’s or 40’s who have a lot of private sector experience, too”. Now, that’s anecdotal evidence, but it’s something that I have heard rather often. The vets who are 25-30 years old don’t seem to notice that their military resumes are impressing corporate HR executives who may not have much experience translating military experience into applicable job skills. Certainly, veterans need to ensure they present their experience well, and in a manner which recruiters can relate to, but nevertheless, a lot of vets feel left out of the joy of lower unemployment numbers.

One things a lot of veterans struggle with is mental and physical health. The problems vets encounter from these issues result in homelessness, joblessness, and for too many, suicide. Veterans often don’t want to seek help, or they don’t know how to seek help. To many, help equals admitting a weakness, and they would rather self-medicate with drugs or alcohol before seeking help. Of course, we all know this to be true, so I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but maybe it is helpful coming from me. I know I struggled a bit when I got back from my deployment in 2005, and it took a number of years before I worked out the kinks in my head. For a lot of vets, though, the kinks are too great and they cannot be undone. When we see the statistics that 22 of our fellow veterans takes their own life each day, it’s heartbreaking.

It is encouraging to hear that more homeless veterans in Mecklenburg County are finding housing, and that the county has focused on every veteran finding housing by the end of the year. That is a wonderful initiative, and is appreciated throughout the veteran community. It is also a kind gesture to give all county employees the Veterans’ Day holiday. I personally have never worked somewhere where I was given the Veterans’ Day holiday, so I appreciate the idea of the day off. I would offer, however, that instead of a day off for all employees, how about a day off for just the veterans in our organization? I understand that giving the day off to everyone will allow all employees to honor veterans, go to parades, etc. However, the reality is, it will just be a day off for most people. I don’t begrudge anyone for not celebrating the day, but I believe it would be more meaningful to the veterans to just give the day off to veterans. I understand that Mecklenburg County gives fewer holidays than other counties in North Carolina. In that case, let’s find another day or two to give as days off. Perhaps President’s Day or a day off for county employee birthdays. Giving Veterans’ Day off for everyone is certainly better than no one having the day off, but I think it would be more special if it was a holiday for veterans only.

I believe there are other ways we can honor veterans in Mecklenburg County, too. We have Veterans Park off of Central Avenue; perhaps a re-dedication ceremony? I have heard several in the community suggest that Mecklenburg County should have a war memorial, honoring all wars past and present. It would be an ambitious undertaking, but do our veterans deserve less?

If we really want to help and honor veterans, we need to look beyond days off and parks. We as a county and community do much to help veterans, but we can do more. I have heard that 10% of Mecklenburg County residents are veterans, and that number is expected to rise with the wars winding down, and the military drawing down its numbers. How can be better connect veterans with jobs? How can we address the mental and physical health issues our veterans face? How can we better serve this community? Finally, how do value our veterans in a meaningful way? I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but I do know that veterans appreciate sincere gratitude. A day off would be appreciated, but I would be willing to bet that most Mecklenburg County employees who are veterans would say that helping our comrades in arms who are lost, hurting, or feel unappreciated would be more meaningful than anything else. Let’s thank our veterans with a day off–and let’s also commit to making an impact on the streets, in the boardroom, and in the dark recesses that veterans often find themselves.

Semper Fidelis,

Matthew

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