Danielle ApplegateAs we roll into the Memorial Day holiday, I’ve been reflecting on the differences between last Memorial Day and this one, during the time of a global pandemic.

Last Memorial Day, a sunny day with perfect weather, I boarded a tram with my two small children at Arlington National Cemetery for the ten-minute ride through the grounds to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for a morning of volunteering for the ceremony events, which included wreath-laying, speeches by dignitaries, and military bands playing their hearts out.

Later in the day, there were many shared hugs and condolences, and a couple of bottles passed around in tribute to lost loved ones’ graveside down in Section 60. A bagpiper played at each grave at the request of those gathered nearby.

This year, in stark contrast, the public is not allowed to participate in the wreath-laying, ceremonies have been cancelled, and we are mourning the heartbreaking loss of over 1,000 veterans in COVID19-related deaths, a number rising by the day. Among those lost are our most revered, yet most vulnerable, population of veterans, those residing in the soldier’s homes and state veterans homes. This is a devastating tragedy on top of the already horrific state we are living in, and shines a bright light on the vital work needed to advocating for the benefits and services due our veterans and their families.

In addition, the need for physical distancing is taking a toll on the metal health of those who could use the most support during this solemn holiday.

As we approach the holiday weekend, there is also some good news. VA cemeteries are open to the public, and Arlington National Cemetery is open to family pass holders. Please take a moment to reflect on those that have given their lives in sacrifice for our personal freedoms.

Reach out to a family or community member (for any support with mental health distress, please access the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) immediately), send a note of encouragement, or take a moment to contribute to your favorite nonprofit.

We’ll be here, continuing to serve through direct services and our online resource and call center – please reach out if we can assist a veteran in your life: www.vetsfirst.org.

With loving remembrance and reflection on the sacrifice of the Fallen,

Danielle Applegate
Vice President, VetsFirst