By DESIREE JACKSON, ELIZABETH KELLY & LOVASHNI KHALIKAPRASAD
Former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly served as the Grand Marshal in the 95th Annual Veterans Day Parade on Tuesday.
Kelly, a Vietnam Combat vet, led an estimated 20,000 participants, including veterans from World War II, down Fifth Avenue, starting at Madison Square Park and ending at 53rd Street. Over 600,000 people filled the streets basking in the warm November weather as they watched the parade.
The former Marine Corps Reserve colonel, who retired after 30 years of service, called for people to support veterans.
“We have to do everything we can to meet the challenge to support the young men and women that we send to do battle for us” he said. “We have to support them in every way we can, with jobs, with educational opportunities, with safe housing, with medical care and mental health services” he continued.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer chimed in, adding “We have more to do jobs, housing mental health issues; the rate of suicide is far too high, we need more screening.”
The celebratory event comes amid recent scandal surrounding the Veterans Administration, as the reaction of veterans varied when they recalled their experiences during their time of service.
Paul Feddern, an army veteran of the Vietnam War, who went on to join the New York City Police Dept. was among the viewers.
“Very honorable to be a veteran, “ he said. “I felt good coming home to my family. The war affected me positively, it gave me structure in my life and I would do it again.”
Not everyone echoed this sentiment, William Ortiz a former Sgt. in the Vietnam War service came to an end in September of 1973, confessed that he was disappointed.
“I was disappointed because we didn’t receive the recognition we were supposed to,” said William Ortiz who served as an army NCO in Vietnam. “I have regrets, I served honorably and I had to do it again I would not.”
Many other vets cut through the blare of brass bands and patriotic speeches to talk about their struggles in the aftermath of war.
“I don’t want to be a guinea pig,” said Eric Almead, 41, who served in Iraq and suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome.
Experts report that one third of the 15,000 veterans who live in New York City suffer from some form of mental health disorder, and with no real “cure” for the condition, different methods are being tested.
“My psychiatrist has suggested that I up and move to Nevada, to try medicinal marijuana, but I don’t want to leave New York. I love New York,” said Almead.
Psychiatrists often use a combination of antidepressants and talk therapy to treat PTSD, but according to Almead, “nothing seems to work.”
According to the Department of Veterans affairs, 18 veterans commit suicide everyday and PTSD is the most prevalent mental health disorder among veterans.
“So many people that I’ve served with has tried to commit suicide,” added Almead.”I myself have tried to commit suicide. After you’ve seen what I’ve seen, like little kids being blown up, you’re never the same.”