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Honor veterans with more than parades

Maybe you’ve seen the incredible YouTube video that’s gone viral recently of the homeless veteran who gets a makeover. If not, you should.

On this Veterans Day, it is an apt reminder that truly honoring the service of the men and women of the U.S. military requires more than a one-day observance with a parade or a handshake.

Don’t get us wrong. Veterans Day is a good day to make those symbolic gestures. And for those who haven’t bothered to show appreciation in other ways throughout the year, it’s an opportunity that should not be missed.

Still, the physical transformation of 54-year-old Army vet Jim Wolf, who has struggled with poverty, homelessness and alcohol abuse, from bedraggled to clean cut underscores this reality: This country can and must do more. The makeover by a local charity was the catalyst to push Wolf toward more substantive help. He’s now seeking veterans’ housing and is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the first time.

Which was the makeover’s point, said filmmaker Rob Bliss: “It’s more than just a haircut and clothing. To see yourself look like that is to see that potential.”

Wolf is among more than 60,000 U.S. military veterans who have found themselves on the streets after their military service ended, according to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans. Most of them, like Wolf, have substance abuse problems. Many also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

They are a small subset of the more than 22 million veterans living today. . In North Carolina, there are more than 765,900 – and 570,400 served during wartime.

Most of those veterans didn’t wind up homeless, but many still need a wide array of services to deal with both physical and emotional problems. Many are disabled; many are depressed; some are suicidal.

Sadly, too many of us have paid little attention to ensuring that these needs – often incurred in the defense of our freedoms – are adequately met. “Unfortunately, I would have to say that the majority of people don't think much about veterans and the sacrifices they have made once Veterans Day passes,” said Jerry Newberry, director of communications with Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation's largest philanthropic group dedicated to supporting military veterans. “It's something that’s just not up on their screen. It's out of sight, out of mind.”

That is changing. Here in the Charlotte area, where more than 130,000 veterans live, the nonprofit Charlotte Bridge Home has provided support to struggling veterans. At the national level, politicians are paying more attention. The Veterans Administration fiscal 2014 budget includes $1.4 billion (up $41 million from 2013) to end veteran homelessness, and $7 billion (up $469 million from 2013) to expand mental health care.

That’s still insufficient to meet needs.

This Veterans Day marks the 95th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, for which President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Armistice Day in 1919. In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower changed the observance to Veterans Day to include all U.S. veterans.

There are many ways to salute the service of these noble men and women. Say thanks today but don’t forget that many vets, aptly illustrated by the video of Jim Wolf, need much more. On all the other days, we must provide it.

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