Memorial Day is a federal holiday intended to pay respect to our country's fallen heroes. However, for many, Memorial Day is a personal experience that lasts longer than 24 hours and is much more than a BBQ and pool party.
My Memorial Day began at 9 pm ET on May 5th, 2006, with a satellite phone call from my husband, a Team Leader in the Army deployed to Hillah, Iraq. He said, "Hey babe, the worst happened today." I am an Army Veteran, so I knew exactly what that meant.
The Battalion was due home in less than a week. They had received their campaign medals, and unit and team photos were taken. Back home, family and friends were getting ready to celebrate their return to Fort Bragg with "welcome home banners."
My husband's replacement, Captain M (using initials for family privacy), arrived in the country and was briefed on the current efforts in and around Hillah. Captain M asked if he could borrow the Team to take him "out of the wire" and show him their area of operation. They mounted up in their HMMVVs, leaving my husband behind. For 30 minutes, he listened in horror over the radio as his Team Sergeant, Master Sergeant S, ran over an IED and called for medivacs. My husband and another officer took off to the blast site and saw his team sergeant being loaded into a Blackhawk helicopter. Master Sergeant S bled out on the way to the CASH (combat hospital). Two others died instantly. Captain M was flown to Germany expecting to survive but later succumbed to his injuries.
What struck me the most was that these mothers and wives I knew and grew close to would have a government official or Army Chaplain knock on their doors within the next 4-24 hours to be told their soldier had been killed. Moreso, these mothers and wives would receive Mother's Day Cards and flowers a few days later as they laid their sons and husbands to rest. I would meet them in Arlington at section 60, but only after I returned from Fort Bragg to help as my husband escorted their personal effects to Mortuary Affairs.
As the soldiers, loaded with all their gear, walked off the plane into the "Green Ramp," I desperately searched for my husband. They were all battle-worn, solemn, and still in shock. They weren't greeted with cheers or celebrations, only tears, hugs, and a sudden realization that, as Army Reservists, they would go home to familiar strangers and weren't particularly ready to pretend that the last few days had never happened. Yet, the bond of these brothers and sisters who had just spent twelve months in battle would not be broken.
My family and I would hike down from Fort Myer every Memorial Day in Section 60 in Arlington Cemetery and lay flowers on three friends laid to rest there. We could tell others had also visited by small personal items left on the headstones. As the years passed and the conflict continued overseas, Section 60 became the final resting place for over 900 servicemembers.
In total, we lost 7,057 U.S. military service members in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wish I could say that was the end of that sad statistic, but it's not. Over 30,000 active-duty personnel and veterans who served in the post 9/11 wars have since died by suicide and about 76 percent of U.S. veteran and active service survey respondents in a recent study report having experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of their military service after 9/11.
While the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is responsible for providing healthcare and other services to veterans, many veterans have reported difficulties accessing the help they need. Veterans are sometimes turned away from VA hospitals or clinics because their needs aren't deemed urgent, whereas others struggle to obtain appointments for care due to a shortage of mental health professionals. Burdened by red tape, many veterans no longer have the fight to tackle the bureaucracy obstructing access to mental health care.
The VA has made efforts to address these issues by increasing funding for mental health services and hiring more mental health professionals. However, more must be done to ensure veterans have access to the care they need. This could include expanding the number of VA facilities and mental health professionals, conducting continuous market research surveys among veterans to gauge whether they can access the services they need and the effectiveness of those services, and increasing awareness about the importance of seeking treatment for mental health conditions. Equally as important is dismantling the stigma around mental health, particularly for men and minorities, who frequently encounter societal biases about seeking care.
The sacrifices made by these veterans should not go unrecognized, and we owe it to them to ensure they receive the care and support they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives. (If you're a veteran experiencing a mental health crisis or concerned about one, qualified responders at the Veterans Crisis Line can help. Click the link or dial 988 and press 1.)
May 25th is when I turn off the news and social media and tune out all the world's nonsense. I think of a young man or woman's sacrifice and those who grieved over their loss. I think of the Gold Star families and the service members who made it home but are still lost in that moment in battle. It's a day that I put aside all personal struggles, gains, and aspirations of the future and think of our fallen heroes that died in a battle far away from home to protect our nation's peace.
The difference between organizations that implement diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives well and those that stumble is intentionality. Two years after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, people of color are still waiting to see systemic change economically, politically and socially.
Companies and brands that employ millions of workers can make a tremendous impact here if that influence is wielded to take a stance on social justice issues, level the playing field for black and brown workers, and increase representation in marketing and advertising.
That work begins with the talent pipeline. Organizations that intentionally fill the pipeline with diverse candidates are more likely to hire employees with diverse backgrounds. That diversity impacts culture, innovation, creativity and, ultimately, business outcomes.
For marketers, when hiring, it’s important to remember that what’s happening inside the organization often shows up on the outside. Without cultural competence and representation, inclusive marketing will be difficult to achieve. Simply put, failing to diversify your talent pipeline is why your marketing is missing the mark.
In this episode of The New Mainstream podcast, Carole Smith, Marketing Director and Executive Sponsor of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council at Aquent, discusses the role of diversity in talent acquisition and how it improves business outcomes.
Notes from the trenches
You may wonder why I'm publishing this article on this platform. It's a fair question that I'm not sure I have a simple answer for. In part, it is a bit therapeutic for me. As a sales and marketing professional, it’s also an opportunity to raise a flag. I've found that the media and brands in general are becoming more sensitive to the challenges of disabled individuals. Yet, they’re overlooking the challenges of the parents and extended families who are caretakers for loved ones with severe disabilities.
In honor of Disability Pride Month, I hope that sharing my experience will help others who find themselves in similar circumstances or prompt more research into ways society can help alleviate some of the burdens faced by parents of children with extreme special needs.
I am a proud father to a special needs boy born with Dandy Walker Syndrome. If you are not familiar with his condition, you are not alone. It's a fairly rare condition that affects about 1 in 25,000 children. Dandy Walker is a cerebellum malformation diagnosed or developed at birth or within the first year. The effects of the syndrome can range from mild to severe developmental delays to impairment of intellectual growth and gross motor skills. Other abnormalities and conditions often present with Dandy Walker, such as heart defects, malformations of the urogenital tract, extra or fused fingers and toes, abnormal facial features, vision and sight issues and potential seizures.
Our son was diagnosed with Dandy Walker and a missing corpus callosum (the connective tissue of your right and left side of your brain) as well as a partial cleft palate. It was not the trifecta you wanted to hear upon your son's birth. In fact, his condition was a complete surprise to us. During the pregnancy, the doctor missed signs of the disorder in check-ups and tests.
That said, I think back on that and realize it was a blessing in disguise. We were able to celebrate our pregnancy with no knowledge of a pending issue which would have caused incredible stress on both myself and my wife not to mention questions of what to do or not do in terms of carrying on. Upon birth we were faced with the very real situation of his condition but even then, we didn't have a full grasp on how challenging his condition would be for him and our family.
Our doctor told us in that moment that our son may never be able to hold his head up and that the road ahead would be difficult. But we knew we were all in for our son the moment we laid eyes on him.
There are an estimated 5.9 million children with severe disabilities in the U.S. and most of them are cared for at home by their parents. Interestingly, there isn't a lot of research on families regarding special needs and even less so around the more medically fragile. I was able to find research on caregivers of older people and adults with disabilities and it shows that caregiving can take a mental and physical toll. "A substantial body of research shows that family members who provide care to individuals with chronic or disabling conditions are themselves at risk. Emotional, mental, and physical health problems arise from complex caregiving situations and the strains of caring for frail or disabled relatives."
The research that specifically addresses parenting special needs children seems to focus on divorce rates. Some reports cite high levels of divorce, while others state the research is inconclusive. I can tell you from first-hand experience it is not an easy life. My anecdotal observation is a strong family unit is key, and sharing responsibilities for care is a must.
Caretaking for the most medically fragile is both mentally and physically draining. The road will never be easy, and without progress in the child’s developmental skills, that road will get significantly harder as your child grows. Basic tasks like taking a bath will become even more challenging.
Tools and resources to help do exist. However, getting access to them is in and of itself a complicated and challenging endeavor. Early on, I was given great advice: to start tapping into resources as soon as possible as it will take a long time to get approved. I was also advised to work with our doctors to ensure our son's diagnosis was properly reported and to get all paperwork filled out quickly. Local and state agencies are often understaffed, so any questions or errors will lead to delays in getting help.
Even once you are accepted or approved for services you will still face an uphill battle for retaining them or justifying their existence for your child in the future. I understand that some additional steps are necessary to mitigate the risk of fraud, but it can be frustrating nonetheless.
Hopefully, you now have services set up and potentially some kind of respite via caretakers, so everything should be OK, right? Not so fast. That is just part of the hurdle. Another large challenge is your own mental state. In my opinion, this is the aspect of special needs that is not addressed. I couldn't find data specific to caring for special needs children, but the AARP Public Policy Institute conducted research that shows that nearly 40% of caregivers of family members experience emotional stress from caregiving.
The impact on mental health for those caring for loved ones in extreme situations can manifest in several ways.
The same challenges are there in other public spaces. Accessible stalls, while great, are still not going to be the right fit for trying to change a diaper on a child that is older than five. Not to mention that the accessible stall seems to be coveted by practically everyone who "wants more space" for when they go to the restroom but somehow forget how to be clean about doing so.
Above is just a small portion of the challenges parents of special needs kids face. These things and countless others like education pile up over time. It all can lead to unbearable stress on the family unit. How do we help? I don't have a magic bullet or plan. I am in the trenches every day, and I often can't see past what is in front of me. But if I had to put a few at the top of my list, I would say:
If you are still here reading, I thank you for reading through what seems to be a bit of a rant and, again, certainly therapeutic for me. I feel a bit selfish in writing this. My burden isn't your burden, and no doubt you have your own, so please accept my apology and thanks. I guess I have heard so many times the phrase "I can't imagine what it's like" that I thought just maybe I could help paint that picture for those who, at some point in their mind or out loud said, "I can't imagine what it's like to be in your situation."
Latino immigrants once feared that practicing their native cultures would make them seem "less American" and thus less accepted, so they tried to acculturate to American ways of life quickly. Fortunately, most Latinos have evolved in how they see themselves. They embrace the concept of the "the 200%" (100% Latino and 100% American) and the ability to be ones authentic self without abandoning who they are. Language has been one of the biggest indicators of that. In the past, immigrant parents may have insisted that everyone in the household speak only English and stifle their native tongue.
But today, bicultural bilingual households across the U.S. are thriving, primarily driven by younger generations who refuse to conform or apologize for their lineage. Gen Z is the first multicultural majority generation, and Latinos have the highest rate of interracial marriage.
So how should marketers engage this demographic? Connecting with the new mainstream requires understanding the dynamics they navigate daily, taking into account their cultural lens, contextual environments, and behavior. To do that, they must be invited to the conversations and a part of the decisions being made. By relying on people with these experiences, you can assess the authenticity of your marketing efforts and decrease the chance of missing the mark.
In this episode of The New Mainstream podcast, Vanessa Vigil, General Manager, mitú, distills the notion of "the 200%" and why it's important for marketers to dive deeper into multicultural consumer insights.