Supporting the veteran community this Memorial Day

Dr. Nancy Isserman, MSW, PhD is the director of  Operation Home and Healing (OHH)

This month we observe Memorial Day. Most people, myself included, don’t stop to think about what Memorial Day is and how Memorial Day connects us to the over 300,000 veterans and their families in the Delaware Valley.

In our current culture, Memorial Day is a time for sales in stores, picnics, and a long weekend off from work or school. But almost 150 years ago this was not the original purpose of the day. Memorial Day, when created in 1868, was called Decoration Day as it was meant to be a time when civilians and veterans decorated the graves of the men who died in battle. In 1868, just after a staggering number of Americans had died in the Civil War, an estimated 620,000 men, Gen. John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation in General Orders No. 11 of May 5, 1868, that May 30th would be “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.”

Memorial Day is thus a day to pause and remember the men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. In the Philadelphia region, there are three national cemeteries: the Philadelphia National Cemetery (Haines St. and Limekiln Pike) in Philadelphia; Washington Crossing National Cemetery (830 Highland Road) in Newtown, PA; and Mount Moriah National Cemetery (62nd and Kingsessing Avenue) in Philadelphia. All three cemeteries welcome and encourage fresh-cut flowers throughout the year. Temporary floral containers are located throughout the cemetery for public use. Pay them a visit this Memorial Day weekend and visit the graves of those who gave their lives so that we could live in a democratic country enjoying the freedom to live our lives as we choose.

And, after Memorial Day, what can we do for our veteran community? We can thank them for their service. We can support the institutions that provide services to the veterans. And we can show understanding and compassion for the veterans and their families who are experiencing difficulties arising from their military service or their reintegration into civilian life and support their seeking of help for their problems without prejudging them.

The recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq represent America’s longest continuous combat engagement and have also resulted in unprecedented deployments of National Guard and other reserve component personnel, repurposing our military reserves from a strategic force for national emergencies to an operational force that is integral to our nation’s day-to-day military operations. More than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan has placed extraordinary demands on service members and their families with a significant minority of veterans returning from the field deeply changed by their combat experiences and with life changing psychological impairments. The psychological problems can hamper some veterans’ ability to reconnect with family, find work, and live healthy and productive lives. The impact of the warrior experience ripples through families and society with often devastating results.

Sometimes, these problems are resolved with time and readjustment to reunification with one’s family. However, without treatment, service members may go on to develop far more serious mental health issues, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, substance abuse, and relationship difficulties. Stigma and access are barriers to mental health and behavioral health care for veterans and their families. Post-deployment service members worry about how seeking care makes them appear to their fellow service members and about how seeking such care could damage their careers or those of their spouses.

Council for Relationships’ Operation Home and Healing provides counseling services to military personnel, veterans, and their families. Our therapists are trained to understand military culture and know about the best treatment approaches to the problems that our clients face. We are engaged in educating clergy, giving them the knowledge and tools to effectively operate as “first responders” to veterans in their places of worship who are experiencing individual and family problems. We provide subsidized counseling or sliding scale fees for military, veterans or family members in need and don’t turn anyone away for financial reasons.

And we have joined the Delaware Valley Veterans Consortium to work with other veterans service organizations to increase services to our military and veteran community. On Memorial Day our commitment to our military service providers and our veterans will honor those who have died fighting for us and beyond May 28th we will show our appreciation to those who have served by providing needed mental health services to the Delaware Valley military and veteran community.


Learn more about Operation Home and Healing.