A celebration of veterans’ contributions and sacrifices outside Greenacres City Hall for Veterans Day hit repeatedly on the psychological, as well as the physical, wounds that soldiers bring home.
Pastor Gary Dolphus of Greenacres’ Church of the Risen Messiah prayed for strength and healing for soldiers’ mental and emotional wounds, as well as patience from those who love them, in his invocation at the Monday morning ceremony.
“There are a lot of men and women who are struggling mentally, emotionally from the trauma of a war,” he told WLRN after the event. “That’s something that you don’t just get over.”
Dolphus is still grappling decades later with physical wounds he sustained after exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He said he sees a lot of veterans grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder on his visits to the VA hospital.
“It’s something that a lot of people don’t understand or have dismissed, but it’s very real,”he said. “There are a lot of men and women that have found themselves homeless and on the street, and they’re not getting the help that they need.”
Nationally, just over 9 percent of people experiencing homelessness are veterans, according to a report from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. More than 7 percent of those homeless veterans live in Florida. The report names mental health conditions including PTSD as one factor leading to veterans’ housing insecurity.
Greenacres Mayor Joel Flores, himself an Army veteran of the war in Afghanistan, said the holiday is an important reminder to care for veterans, but that the work continues year-round.
“I’m always advocating for them medically, through the VA, and that they’re acknowledged – that they have the help that they need,” Flores said. “They were there to answer the call, and now it’s important for us to take care of those that answered that call.”
Turnout at the Greenacres event was modest – a few dozen people showed up, including city employees and members of the police and fire departments. Other cities throughout South Florida held their own events over the long weekend.
John Morris said he felt good about the event, but would’ve appreciated more attendees. He was in the Air Force for eight years, serving in Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
“I wish more people would come out and participate,” he said. “I think they appreciate it, but they just don’t come out to show it.”