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RURAL REPORT: Rural individuals serve in military, pay the ultimate price at higher rates than urban

On Memorial Day, we can take a moment to reflect on the make-up of our military and consider how that impacts our small towns.

Not surprisingly given our reverence to country and those who have served in the armed forces, rural Americans have a disproportionately higher rate of service in our U.S. military,

Early reports from the Iraq/Afghanistan and Middle East conflicts since 2001 indicated more rural service members have lost their lives in theatre.

While Memorial Day - originally called Decoration Day - was established to honor those who had died in battle "in defense of their country," as war has changed and we learn more about the lingering effects of war on those who return, we understand the importance of honoring those who died in battle, in other service-related incidents or who died after their active duty had come to a close because of physical or mental wounds of war.

For this reason, it is important that we not only honor those who have died, but understand how we can help to prevent service-related deaths, from ensuring veterans have access to high-quality healthcare through the VA system and beyond and working to connect veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental illnesses. Part of that comes with destigmatizing seeking counseling and mental health services.

When coming home, rural veterans often return to rural areas. In these communities, access to healthcare services is more limited, especially services related to mental health and specialty practices. Veterans in rural areas are much more likely to enroll in VA care (58% of veterans living in rural areas compared to 37% who live in urban areas).

The National Grange has long been an advocate for various programs and services for all who honorably served our nation, but especially those that would expand access for rural veterans. From supporting VA telehealth initiatives long before the pandemic made it a household term to advocating for continued funding of the Lifeline program that provides low-cost phone and internet service for about 1 million veterans and tens of thousands of households with active-duty service members.

While our primary objective as a nation today is to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice during combat while serving in our military, it should also be a moment to take stock and double down on our commitment to the bravest among us - from their time of enlistment through their years after service.

We welcome you to our next Jefferson Grange meeting where, among other things, we will talk about ways in which we can honor veterans and provide those struggling with the wounds of war information on resources available.

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