The Veterans Memorial Wall is located in Jacksonville, Florida and is credited with being the second largest memorial wall in the United States. The city of Jacksonville also markets itself as being a military and veteran friendly city. Wouldn’t you think a city that makes those claims would acknowledge the 7,300 lives lost to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? This is not only an issue exclusive to Jacksonville, this is an issue veterans all over the country face.
Sergeant Randall Hansen was a resident of Jacksonville, FL and graduated from Fletcher High School. He served a combat tour of duty in Fallujah, Iraq and then discharged from the Marine Corps to attend the University of North Florida. When he came back from his first tour of duty, it was clear to his family that he wasn’t the same person. The trauma of combat had changed him as a person inside and outside.
Unfortunately, he was later recalled under the Marine Corps “Stop Gap” program to serve yet another combat tour of duty in Iraq. Essentially, this program allowed the Marine Corps to call combat veterans back to war to serve during their inactive service period. When Sgt Hansen returned from his second tour of duty, he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and succumbed to the invisible wounds of war on Nov 27, 2013. He was only 31 years old. His name has not been included on the Veterans Memorial Wall in Jacksonville, which has no memorial for PTSD victims. There are likely more cities than Jacksonville that follow this unequal policy.
Current criteria for the Veterans Wall was defined over 20 years ago: that the individual must have attended high school in Duval County, have it listed as their home of record, must have died while on active duty, and the death must have occurred during time of war. A typical rule of thumb for all military guidance is that you can always add to an instruction, but you can never take away from it. Interesting that a wall dedicated to veterans doesn’t allow veterans to be added to it. As a hometown veteran, I would not be added to the wall but by every other standard I would receive a military funeral with honors.
Many other veterans have been added to the wall and do not meet the defined criteria. There are some who have been on active duty and never deployed to a combat zone, but have been recognized on this wall. There are some who have died in car accidents or domestic violence disputes and were also added to the wall. Sgt Hansen’s case is similar to many others who served honorably in combat, sustained non-physical injuries, and died from their wounds without receiving any recognition. Local government has made a conscious decision to ignore this fact. This memorial should be about acknowledging the sacrifices of veterans and not determining whose life deserves to be recognized and whose life doesn’t. Given that veterans vote on a regular basis, political logic dictates that a decision like this should be easy for any local politician. That it hasn’t been done raises more questions than it answers.
Other non-military communities like Buffalo, New York, and Palm Coast, Florida have memorials that acknowledge and honor PTSD veterans. Yet, the third largest military community in the United States has done nothing to recognize veterans and families who have lost lives to PTSD. This situation must change.