Memorial Day

Remembering the sacrifices of those who serve our collective, public interest.

On Memorial Day, we give thanks to those who died while serving in the US military.  The holiday had its start during the Civil War and was originally known as Decoration Day, from the custom of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers.

On this day, I stop to recall the sacrifices made by our armed forces and I also think about others who have committed their lives to the pursuit of a more just society.   In the military, soldiers may be asked to put their lives on the line in pursuit of the “national interest” or some other seemingly abstract mission.  We honor them because their purpose was not to advance their individual desires but to further a collective, national interest.

Similarly, those who work in publicly-funded nonprofits like DRO, deploy their skills to further a national interest for pay that does not approach the private market rate.  Usually, this does not require putting one’s life on the line.  But as we learned this week of the death of Jennifer Warren, a mental health worker who was stabbed to death while delivering medication to a client, public service can have terrible risks.

That is why, this Memorial Day, I want to remember the sacrifices of Ms. Warren and all the publicly-funded workers who put it on the line every day to help their fellow men and women to live better lives.  I also want to acknowledge four Benefits Planners at DRO who are being laid off this month because the Social Security Administration couldn’t get it together to reauthorize and refund the Work Incentives Planning and Assistance Program (WIPA).

This is a program that helps people on Social Security return to work without unnecessarily risking their public benefits.  It has a great track record and nobody at Social Security or in Congress has voiced opposition to its continuation.  But they just can’t get the reauthorization done in the present Washington climate.  And so our skilled, diligent and productive staff are out of jobs.  All are people with disabilities or family members who are uniquely suited to work with our clients.  But the national interest as defined above has seen fit to allow their sacrifice.

For those in the military, this may sound familiar.  And so, this Memorial Day, I will keep all of our dedicated Americans in mind: those who have fallen in battle and those who have died or lost their livelihoods serving the public interest.