Next week, millions of Americans will celebrate Veterans Day—a moment for us to recognize the sacrifices made by all those who have served our country. It is an especially powerful moment for the 18 million veterans still alive today, as they look back on their service and its profound impact on their lives, and those closest to them.
Unfortunately, many of our surviving veterans struggle to live their lives to the fullest because of war’s harsh consequences—if they even live at all. Because of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other residual repercussions, the veteran suicide rate is significantly higher than that of the general population. According to the most recent data, more than 6,000 veterans commit suicide on an annual basis. This comes out to an average of 17 veteran deaths by suicide per day.
But, however terrible, even that’s not the end of the story. A veteran’s daily life is littered with countless obstacles, which are often ignored by the mainstream media yet continue to wreak havoc on entire communities.
Perhaps the most significant one is toxic chemical exposure. Any U.S. veteran who fought in the Vietnam War, which amounts to nearly three million service members, is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. This includes the roughly 850,000 living Vietnam veterans who are forced to cope with the ramifications of Agent Orange in their daily lives.
Agent Orange is a herbicide linked to a wide range of debilitating conditions, such as multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, and others. The U.S. military used the toxic chemical from 1962 and 1975, spraying millions of gallons over Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
However, Agent Orange’s lethal legacy extends far beyond Southeast Asia. In Guam, where one in eight adults served in the Armed Forces, our military’s use of the herbicide has affected thousands of veterans stationed on the Pacific Island. They, and the thousands more who served on the island and now live elsewhere, are dealing with the consequences of Agent Orange on a daily basis. That’s right: It is a daily struggle.