From Peter Salem at the Battle of Bunker Hill to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment’s charge at Fort Wagner; from the Tuskegee Airmen in the skies over Europe to the present-day Middle East, black men and women in uniform have fought bravely and made incredible sacrifices on behalf of all Americans.
This Veteran’s Day, here are five ways to honor the African-American heroes who have fought to preserve our freedom through the years.
1. Ensure the veterans in your life know about the health care benefits available to them. Many veterans lack awareness of their VA benefits, which prevents them from making the most of them. Of African-American veterans in particular, over half (58.4%) are not aware of VA benefits and services. Make sure the veterans in your life understand and utilize their benefits.
2. Take suicide talk seriously. According to the VA, roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide, often the result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to encouraging veterans to use their VA services, take seriously and quickly act upon any suicidal indicators.
3. Combat health disparities. Research has found that minority communities frequently receive less access to health care. The health-disparity risk factors impacting the African American community as a whole may also apply within the VA setting. While the VA is advancing efforts to combat health disparities, you can encourage our nation’s leaders to provide necessary funding and research to help eliminate these disparities.
4. Encourage veterans to prevent and treat chronic disease. Minority communities have higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension, as well as cancers. In fact, African Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed with diabetes. One study found that the incidence of high blood pressure was 69 percent higher among African American veterans injured in combat than white veterans. The findings highlight the importance for black veterans to make prevention, identification and treatment a high priority for their health. You can make a difference by encouraging the veterans in your life to seek out the health care services available to them, including screening for common cancers and other chronic diseases and by taking early action against pre-diabetes and other indications of the onset of disease.
5. Ask Congress and the VA to reduce wait times in the VA health system. According to recent data, well over a half million veterans are waiting more than 30 days for appointments at VA facilities. The VA has proposed granting veterans full and direct access to the 4,800 nurse practitioners employed in VA facilities in order to ensure them timely access to high-quality health care. Ask Congress to urge the VA to move forward swiftly with this proposed solution.
We as a country owe the 2.7 million African American veterans in the U.S. a great debt. These are some of the ways we can repay them.