Nearly 70,000 veterans reside in Philadelphia as of the 2020 Census

Veterans are greeted so often with “Thank you for your service” that it has become cliché. But those thanks — without the knowledge or passion of knowing what you are being thankful for — is meaningless for those hearing these words.

Veterans are a multifaceted population with a distinct culture that includes values, customs, ethos, selfless duty, codes of conduct, implicit patterns of communication, and obedience to command. They also experience mental health disorders, substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress, suicidal ideation, homelessness, traumatic brain injury, and a multitude of physical ailments at disproportionate rates compared to their civilian counterparts.

So: “Thank you for your service” without “Thank you for your sacrifice” is no thanks at all. This is where we as a community can and should make a difference.

Veterans and their key support system, their families, experience sacrifice from the time they take their oath “to serve and protect” and leave their families for basic training. The sacrifice continues through their duty assignments and includes following service orders that may involve participating in hazardous activities.

Their sacrifice built the backbone of this country, and they have put their lives on hold and at risk to protect it. They answered the call of duty, fought wars, and provided humanitarian support that continues to keep everyone safe. They are also the population that experienced all the traumas associated with those service requirements at a level many times more intense than others see in society today.

Therefore, their status and position should not only be stated but recognized as the specialized population they are and continue to be.

Approximately 60 years ago, the City established the Philadelphia Veterans Advisory Commission (VAC) with the goal of acting as an information and services hub for local veterans. This helped raise awareness of the needs of the veteran population within the City of Philadelphia.

Many City departments recognize this need as well. For instance, the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) established the Veterans Initiative Unit under the Behavioral Health and Justice Division in 2010, and the Office of Veterans Affair Liaison under the Planning Innovation Division in 2018 as units to support the veteran population.

In 2022, the two units merged to form the new Veterans Initiative Unit to work across all seven divisions of DBHIDS and in collaboration with other City offices to support the special requirements of the veteran population. Though efforts have been initiated, they have no force of implementation until veterans are seen for their value, sacrifice, and willingness to do what is needed to serve our society. Veterans are a priority population – and they deserve to be!

We know the service and recognize the sacrifice. Let’s show true thanks through our service and recognition of this specialized population.

Author: Kevin L. Aleem is a health program manager for the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS). He is retired from the U.S. Air Force and is a disabled veteran.