Today is Veterans Day, the day we have set aside to thank the men and women who have put on a uniform and pledged to serve our nation. It is important to show veterans on this day that we have not forgotten their many sacrifices. In a small way, the holiday Monday and the annual ceremonies fill that need.
But honoring our veterans should be a year-round commitment, not just a single day off from work that is often devoted to shopping the best sales.
We owe our veterans the benefits they have earned with their labor and, sometimes, their blood.
With the nation in the throes of trillion-dollar deficits, now is not a good time to talk about more spending. But with our veterans, we have no choice. The “fiscal cliff” we are headed for in January calls for devastating cuts to the military’s budget. If those cuts take place, our ability to fulfill our obligation to our veterans may be crippled. The president and Congress must find a way to avoid that disaster.
This nation has different moral responsibilities to different generations of veterans.
The most important thing we can do for our veterans is to make it possible for them to get a good job when they leave the service. The unemployment rate for veterans is far above the national average, and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan will move many more veterans – disciplined and hard-working – into the job market. There are government incentives offered to businesses that hire veterans; better publicity would make those programs more effective. The Pentagon needs to do a better job translating military skills into non-military work experience. Above all, we need policies that will improve the nation’s sluggish economic growth.
Younger veterans must be able to count on education benefits in the GI Bill and assistance in obtaining mortgages – two of the surest paths to the middle class this country offers. A VA mortgage enables a veteran to buy a home with no money down, no mortgage insurance and often a lower interest rate than otherwise possible.
Some younger veterans need health care, from top-notch medical care for war injuries and psychological trauma to rehab services to regain strength and mobility after they are healed. It is our responsibility as a nation to provide this health care for veterans who have shed their blood in the military.
The requirements for older veterans are different. They have a greater need for continuing health care for chronic ailments – some service-related – and the ravages of age. That care must be first-rate. There can be no repeat of the scandal over substandard care at the now-closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Whatever the age, the government must do more to reduce the bureaucracy that stands in the way of services to veterans. Our oldest veterans need to live out their lives in dignity and, when the time comes, have a place of permanent honor in which to be buried.
That last requirement will become easier soon, when the Department of Veterans Affairs opens a national veterans cemetery in Erie or Genesee county. Now the nearest facility is in Bath, in Steuben County, 105 miles from Buffalo. A closer cemetery will make it easier for families to visit the graves of their loved ones.
Time is slipping away for the oldest generation of veterans. Only about 1.7 million veterans of the 16 million who served our nation in World War II are still alive, and it’s estimated that 900 more die each day. For some of the Greatest Generation, this Veterans Day will be their last. That is why the work of Honor Flight Buffalo – an all-volunteer charity organization – is so important. Honor Flight is dedicated to flying veterans – with World War II vets taking priority – free of charge to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials dedicated to honoring their sacrifices. News reporter Anne Neville’s moving story about one recent flight is today’s Spotlight cover story.
Veterans also have a weekly spot on the City & Region cover, in reporter Lou Michel’s feature “Saluting Our War Heroes.” His stories describe the almost unimaginable sacrifices made by some extraordinary people from Western New York.
Military service teaches people to be selfless and giving, to function as part of a team and not seek special treatment or care. Unfortunately, this has worked against veterans, especially those of the Greatest Generation, who are often too modest and too proud to ask for the things they deserve. It is our responsibility as a nation to see that those needs are met, even if they don’t ask. And, most of all, veterans deserve our thanks, today and every day.