Although the pandemic has changed the way we celebrate, Memorial Day remains an important time for remembering and honoring those who paid the ultimate price to ensure our nation’s safety. I encourage everyone to reflect on what this observance is really about and to keep in mind the families of those who have lost loved ones in service to our nation (”Former Towson resident to honor stepbrother he never met, a Vietnam veteran, at Dulaney Valley Memorial Day ceremony,” May 26).
At the VA Maryland Health Care System, we know firsthand the toll of service, the visible and invisible wounds, the afflictions of survivor’s guilt, the memory lapses of traumatic brain injuries, the determination and grit to navigate life with missing limbs, damaged vision, hearing impairments and other conditions resulting from being in harm’s way for duty, service and honor. We recognize the daily opportunity to honor the fallen by serving their surviving comrades who rely on us for their care.
In the more than 15 months since we began the fight against COVID-19, we have taken the necessary steps to safeguard our veterans while also ensuring they stay on top of their health care needs. This included expanding our care options to include virtual care. We saw unexpected benefits from virtual appointments — convenience for the veterans and additional opportunities to interact with caregivers and family members. We intend to continue virtual options even as we return to more in-person care.
As we move forward with an increasing number of in-person appointments, we are maintaining pandemic safety protocols by encouraging veterans to call first and talk to their health care team about coming in for routine and preventive care. These appointments — from cancer screenings to eye exams — are essential to staying healthy and ultimately save lives.
The VA Maryland Health Care System continues to play a vital role in administering COVID-19 vaccinations by holding mass vaccination events — beginning in January 2020 — to get vaccines into as many arms as possible. Veterans are leading the way by getting vaccinated in record numbers. To date, we have given more than 51,000 vaccine injections. This includes more than 22,800 veterans, spouses and caregivers of veterans, our own employees and volunteers and those employed by other federal agencies. Science writer Mary Roach reminds us that, “Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history.”
Let’s consider the small triumphs and large hearts responsible for helping us endure and survive the COVID-19 pandemic by encouraging those who have not yet received their vaccine to do so. It’s safe and a small triumph for as many people as possible to be vaccinated.
I encourage everyone to celebrate this Memorial Day by remembering our fallen heroes and embracing those who have lost loved ones. Please know our thoughts are with you. We extend our best wishes to all for a safe and happy Memorial Day.
Jonathan R. Eckman, Baltimore
The writer is director of the VA Maryland Health Care System and a U.S. Army veteran.
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