Soldiers raise mental health awareness; families, nation pay tribute

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) may have limited Memorial Day activities to solemn wreath-laying ceremonies but that didn’t stop families from paying their own personal tributes.

And current and former soldiers used the day to raise awareness about a major issue impacting the military. A 22-mile ruck walk helped alert the community to mental health issues and suicide.

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The decision on national cemeteries impacted Lexington National Cemetery, Danville National Cemetery, Camp Nelson National Cemetery, Cave Hill National Cemetery, Lebanon National Cemetery, Mill Springs National Cemetery, Zachary Taylor National Cemetery, and Evergreen Cemetery, among others.

Another offering was a new online memorial feature allowing the public to pay tribute to Veterans interred in VA national cemeteries across the country.

“This year, by necessity, will be different from past Memorial Day observances,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “While the department can’t hold large public ceremonies, VA will still honor Veterans and service members with the solemn dignity and respect they have earned through their service and sacrifice.”

Each VA national cemetery conducted a brief wreath-laying ceremony, accompanied by a moment of silence and the playing of Taps.

Live streaming, recorded video and photographs from events at national cemeteries are shared on NCA’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Other public events typically associated with Memorial Day at national cemeteries, including group placement of flags at gravesites, did not take place. However, all VA national cemeteries are open Memorial Day weekend from dawn to dusk for public visitation.

Cemetery visitors are asked to adhere to health and safety guidelines and maintain physical distancing while visiting. Visitors are also urged to consider visiting Friday, Saturday or Sunday to avoid possible crowds on Memorial Day. Families may continue the tradition of placing flowers and small American flags at their Veteran’s gravesite.

VA will also be launching a new way for the public to pay tributes to Veterans at the Veterans Legacy Memorial (VLM). The site, originally launched in 2019, contains a memorial page for each Veteran and service member interred in a VA national cemetery. Starting Thursday, May 14, VLM will permit online visitors to leave a comment of tribute on a Veteran’s page, introducing a new way to observe Memorial Day. The tribute allows visitors to voice memories and appreciation for a Veteran’s service. All comments will be reviewed for appropriateness prior to being posted.