- - Friday, May 25, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Memorial Day is the solemn occasion on which we respectfully remember those in uniform who have given their lives in service to our country. I can think of no better way to honor their memory than by recognizing and supporting the family members for whom they will forever be irreplaceable and those who served alongside them.

We have laid to rest 50,085 service members in less than 25 years. Bereavement experts estimate that for each military loss, there are 10 “surviving” family members, friends and relatives who deeply feel the loss. The military service Casualty Assistance Programs offer immediate help, and the Gold Star organizations, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and others come alongside, almost simultaneously, with their mutual commitment to sustain one another long-term with an almost invincible resilience.

The families of those who survive a wound, illness or injury again receive immediate and long-term support. Military service Recovery Coordination Programs provide care coordinators and manage comprehensive care plans for thousands of service members, according to the Defense Department. Veterans Affairs maintains and builds on these individual recovery care plans with specialized programs such as the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service and stipends to help caregivers (usually a spouse or parent) provide personalized assistance for their severely injured loved one with training support by nonprofit organizations such as Easter Seals.

The exceptional bravery of the families of our surviving and wounded warriors is a most special and inspiring example of the overall dedication of our nation’s total force - the military/veteran/family community that affords us our freedoms. Groups such as the National Military Family Association have long recognized their service and advocated for their quality health care, access to good schools and career opportunities. Newer, complementary groups such as the Military Child Education Coalition and Blue Star Families, have added valuable networks that reinforce the visibility of issues including military dependent education and spouse employment.

The key role that America’s military spouses play was first officially recognized by President Reagan in 1984, when he established Military Spouse Appreciation Day to acknowledge their significant contributions. While not all military spouses are women - my dear departed husband willingly offered his support by caring for two young boys under the age of 4 during my frequent and sometimes long absences on Army assignments - 1.21 million are, and they face special challenges, including un- and underemployment because of their attachment to the mobile military lifestyle.

Programs like the Defense department’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program address these challenges by offering essential job-training and placement services that reflect the highly visible efforts of the White House Joining Forces mission to develop education and employment opportunities for military spouses whose skills, experience and dedication they champion along with those of our veterans.

Support to veterans pursuing their education continues through peer organizations including Student Veterans of America, while career development services are offered by programs such as Joining Forces for Women Veterans and Military Spouses Mentoring Plus of the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. While the benefits to mentees can include increased career satisfaction, more likely advancement and higher salary levels, my colleague mentors find their volunteer time richly rewarding, and companies benefit from having highly motivated and skilled veteran and military spouse employees.

These programs of public, private and nonprofit support are examples of what former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen calls the necessary “Sea of Goodwill.” Today, thousands across the country have mobilized to offer support and assistance (nationalresourcedirectory.org), but gaps remain, and individual lives are tragically lost or shattered even off the battlefield.

This Memorial Day, let’s go beyond the honor we have of waving our flags and offering reverence for those who have died in our country’s service. Let’s remember that military members still serve in harm’s way and that they and our veterans and their families will need the nation’s support long term. Let us offer our gratitude with the sincerest expression we can - our personal and sustained involvement in their support.

Lynda Davis is the senior vice president for military, veteran and family support at ICF International and the former deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy.

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