OP-ED: Thank you for your service

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On Veterans Day, November 11, 1988, President Ronald Reagan said, “We remember those who were called upon to give all a person can give, and we remember those who were prepared to make that sacrifice if it were demanded of them in the line of duty, though it never was. Most of all, we remember the devotion and gallantry with which all of them ennobled their nation as they became champions of a noble cause.”
 
As America recognizes Veterans Day this Nov. 11, I hope we can all understand what this day really means. Current estimates have the total population of United States military veterans at 18.5 million with female veterans accounting for 1.6 million of this honorable group and veterans over the age of 65 at 9.2 million. It’s an obvious statement to say these individuals may be your mother, father, brother, sister and/or grandparent, or, at the very least, that of someone you know.

But as a group, our veterans are often overlooked, not just for their service but for the challenges facing them upon their return as civilians.
 
As citizens, we reap the benefits of our veterans' bravery and dedication to preserve our democracy and protect our constitution. When we see enlisted members enjoying leave in our communities, some of us are inclined to shake their hand, buy them a meal or simply say thank you. But what happens when our veterans take off the uniform? Unfortunately, they become invisible to many of us. And this is a problem.
 
The veteran homeless population in Los Angeles alone is estimated between 5,000 and 8,000 souls. These are hard numbers to grasp. Our veterans deserve absolute respect for carrying on a tradition of service and valor that keeps our nation safe and strong.

I recently saw a movie called "Thank You for Your Service." This film tells the very important story of veterans' lives once they return home. Their struggle is one that can only be truly understood by the brave men and women who have seen the horrific events of war and battle. It is a reminder to us all that the way we treat our Veterans should not be something we recognize one day a year, it’s about how they are treated every single day.
 
This Veterans Day, I encourage all of us to do a simple task of helping one soldier or veteran. It can be by writing to an active member of our service (a future veteran), help sponsor a companion dog to support a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), donate accumulated frequent flier miles, or offer to take a veteran to a doctor’s appointment.

You can also make a difference by calling 1-877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838) to help veterans on the streets or on the verge of becoming homeless. Call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get information from the local VA.
 
You can also donate to the Wounded Warriors Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org) and the Living Tree Foundation.
 
Lastly, on the top of a hill in Arlington Cemetery stands a tombstone that simply reads: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” We must not let those veterans around us become forgotten and do our part to honor them and their families. Thank you for your service to our country.
 
Mario A. Guerra is a former mayor of Downey and current Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army. He is also the author of "Embracing Change; An Immigrant Saga" and can be reached at www.marioaguerra.com