Kathleen Parker

For starters, most veterans have no idea how to enter the system. Once inside, they'll likely discover that there aren't enough professionals familiar with PTSD symptoms to properly diagnose the problem. Joe says he was misdiagnosed twice -- with attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder -- and prescribed addictive medications that exacerbated his depression and anxiety.

That experience prompted Collins-Clark to work toward expanding the base of qualified counselors available to returning veterans, as well as to push for more "in theater" counseling. Although military men and women do have access to mental health counseling while in a war zone, few take advantage of the service for fear of tarnishing their records or losing their jobs.

Consequently, recognizing the trauma of war is often belated. Although exact figures are hard to pin down, at least 20,000 Vietnam War veterans are believed to have committed suicide (and possibly many more who didn't leave notes). The suicide rate among Iraq veterans is twice the rate among non-veterans, a CBS investigation recently found.

Help is on the way. A promising new initiative to connect veterans and their families with free mental health counseling was recently launched by Washington, D.C.-area psychologist Barbara V. Romberg. Through a nonprofit group called Give an Hour (GiveanHour.org), several hundred licensed psychologists, social workers and counselors in 40 states have volunteered to donate at least one hour a week for a year to veterans in need.

What Romberg and Collins-Clark are doing is what the senior Jarvis might have done. And honoring that spirit is what Jarvis' daughter had in mind when she first suggested that people attach a white carnation to their lapel on the second Sunday in May.

Cards and flowers are nice, but $15.8 billion would go a long way toward helping veterans and their families. In lieu of flowers, perhaps a donation to a veterans group would be a more fitting bouquet to honor all the mothers who have given their most precious gift to the rest of us.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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