This Memorial Day, It's Up to Us CEOs to Make Veterans a Priority

What will you be doing this Memorial Day Weekend?

Like most Americans, you'll probably go to the beach for early season tanning, enjoy a good sale at your favorite store, or just spend a relaxing weekend with your family and friends.

For 22 million veterans, however, the day means something altogether different. It is a time to remember those who make the ultimate sacrifice for our country, and the families who survive them.

We can never repay the debt we owe our veterans. Memorial Day, however, gives us an opportunity to think about doing more to show our gratitude.

As the president and CEO of New York State's largest private employer, it's a topic I think about frequently, and I firmly believe that our thanks must be expressed not only in words but also in deeds.

Here are three actions we have taken and hope others business leaders will consider doing similar things

Give Veterans a Priority: The unemployment rate among veterans may be dropping, but it's still higher than it should be. The problem is particularly dire among veterans aged 18 to 24, nearly one-fifth of whom are without work. And if searching for a job is a difficult undertaking, it's particularly taxing for those who've spent their adult lives honing military skills that may seem difficult to apply to civilian life, or who may have suffered injuries that make daily life more taxing. Veterans are some of the most dedicated, talented and promising employees out there, using the leadership skills they've forged during their service to inspire colleagues and impress clients.

Pay an Honorable Wage: An honorable wage, unlike a minimum wage, is the money we should provide those who gave their all to defend us and our country. That's why at Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System) we provide returning veterans a check representing the difference between what they earned as soldiers and what they would have earned in their civilian job. As reservists make up a large percentage of the armed forces - nearly half of the Americans who served in Iraq, were on reserve duty - we must be sure we compensate them for their tremendous sacrifice.

The Stress of Service Impacts Families, Not Just Veterans: We are aware of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and have effective ways to treat returning soldiers who need help. Less obvious is the burden of PTSD on veterans' families: wondering if their family would ever "get back to normal," spouses and children who fall into depression, feel guilty for their inability to help the veteran overcome symptoms, even grow angry as time goes by at the lack of desire to change. We must increase our efforts to help heal not only veterans but their families as well. We've done that by striking partnerships with the Veterans' Administration and other veterans' organizations, and offering joint rehabilitation efforts that benefit family members and provide veterans help they so need.

None of these measures are easy, and some have monetary costs. None, however, equals the costs we commemorate this weekend for those who gave their lives to protect ours. Veterans must be a priority, not just on this Memorial Day but on every day of the year.

* * *