The issue: There are more than 1,100 veterans in Redwood County.

Local impact: Finding ways to serve them happens more than one day a year. 

What is a veteran?

According to Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, a veteran is a “person who served in the active military and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.”

In other words, any person who served this country in any branch of the armed services who was not dishonorably discharged meets the definition.

According to the most recent statistics from the United States Census Bureau, there are 21,369,602 people in the United States who are considered veterans. More than 360,000 of them live in Minnesota, and of that number there are approximately 1,100 in Redwood County.

Earlier in November, the nation celebrated those who served during what is known as Veterans Day. The national day of recognition held each Nov. 11 provides an opportunity for the public to shake hands with veterans, offer them words of thanks and to learn more about who they are and what they did during their time of service.

While there is one day set aside for veterans at the national level, the question the public needs to be asking is what happens to those veterans the other 364 days of the year. 

These veterans, who serve in various capacities in communities across the United States, have taken on roles of leadership in business and government, but in many cases the impact their time in the service had on them has proved to be challenging to say the least.

For some, there are actual physical impairments, while others suffer mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that do not allow them to lead the same lives they did prior to that time when they answered the call to serve their country.

Mike Mannz of Redwood Falls, who recently retired from active duty in the military, spoke during the Veterans Day program in Redwood Falls.

Mannz said those who served like he did spent time away from family missing those special events in life from birthday parties to games.

He added veterans who served their country saw the big picture and were willing to make those sacrifices, because they knew in the end what they were doing would help to make the world a better place for those loved ones they had to leave behind.

When a man or woman takes the oath to serve their country, “so help me God,” they are doing it to ensure the freedoms Americans enjoy are maintained, Mannz said.

“Being a veteran is about duty, honor and self-sacrifice,” said Mannz, adding that means not only signing up but willingly fulfilling that obligation no matter the cost.

Mannz said veterans do not serve for the glory, but it is their hope that the sacrifices the have made are not forgotten.

Mannz encouraged the veterans in attendance to share their stories, and he encouraged those who did not serve to demonstrate an interest in those veterans by listening to what they have to say.

Those are big steps toward a nation doing its part to help veterans with life on more than just that one day.

Josh Day, a veteran who served as the emcee for the Veterans Day program at Redwood Valley schools held Nov. 10, talked about those soldiers of past wars who have returned and who got involved in their communities.

“They came back and got involved,” said Day. “They made their mark. They led America in the right direction.”

While there are fewer veterans today, especially in the younger generations, that does not lessen the impact they can have, nor does it lessen the responsibility of a country to do what is right for them and to ensure they receive what they deserve until they leave this earth, added Day.

Mike Schaffer, Minnesota American Legion department commander, spoke Nov. 11 at a Legion meeting in Wabasso.

As the current commander of the American Legion in Minnesota, Schaffer has made it his mission to focus on what is an extremely important issue today – veteran suicide.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 20 veterans who are killing themselves every day. Schaffer said while a number of those veterans are of a younger generation and are dealing with the issues of PTSD, others are from wars gone by who are still suffering from the impact of their service.

Others, he added, are lonely and feel no sense of purpose.

“We need to take care of our own,” said Schaffer, adding for him any loss of a veteran because of a suicide is a failure on the part of society and is unacceptable.

Schaffer served his country from 1970-74 as a member of the United States Air Force, and he has been an active member of the American Legion for 45 years.

Calling Fulda home, Schaffer said he has made a commitment as a fellow veteran to do whatever he can to help others who face challenges that could lead to suicide.

“I know we are not going to be able to eliminate the issue,” said Schaffer, adding, however, efforts to save veterans happen one at a time and in the life of that veteran and their loved ones it will make all the difference in the world.

Since 2014, there have been 113 veteran suicides in Minnesota, with the largest majority of those suicides in those ages 55 and older.

Duane Mabon, of the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne, visited the Redwood Falls American Legion in November to talk about the place “where every day is Veterans Day.”

According to Mabon, there are five homes statewide which are dedicated to serving veterans, adding there is currently a waiting list of people wanting to get in and receive the unique care that takes veterans and their needs into consideration.

Veterans walk the streets of communities every day, and in many cases those who see them pass by have no idea who they are and what they did to earn the label of veteran.

In a nation that owes so much for these men and women, the time has come for people to take notice of veterans and to do their part to ensure they are honored, respected and cared for by demonstrating it is grateful for their sacrifice.

Photo courtesy of Jeannette Mertens