Today is Veterans Day, a time for Americans to pause and think about the liberties that we enjoy and then thank a veteran. If not for those men and women willing to put their lives on the line, this country wouldn’t be what it is today: a land of freedom and opportunity.
This day was originally known as Armistice Day, marking the end of fighting in World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. It extended the nation’s gratitude to those who served in the military during the war to end all wars. After the Korean War, it was renamed Veterans Day, set aside to honor all those who have worn the uniform, both in war and peace.
The war in Iraq is over, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. Americans who have served there and in other trouble spots around the world deserve special recognition for the courage they have exhibited.
Memorial Day remembers those who have died for their country. Veterans Day honors all those who answered the call by placing their civilian lives on hold. Veterans can never be properly compensated for their service.
What we can do is make sure that living veterans are properly cared for. Many times these days that is not happening. Veterans have been forgotten or mistreated, sometimes unintentionally, by a system that has failed them.
Just a couple of months ago, a congressional hearing documented how Michael E. Moreland, the Veterans Affairs regional medical director in Pittsburgh, received an award and a $62,895 bonus for good performance. This happened despite an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease on his watch in which at least five people died.
And here in Buffalo, the improper use of insulin pens on diabetic patients at the VA Medical Center exposed at least 20 patients to hepatitis. If that wasn’t enough, thousands of patient records at VA hospitals in Buffalo and Batavia were misfiled or damaged. But David J. West, the VA’s upstate network director, got nearly $26,000 in bonuses in 2010 and 2011, when the problems occurred.
Suicides by active duty personnel are at an all-time high, and mental health services for veterans don’t come close to meeting the need. And egregiously, there are lengthy delays in processing claims from veterans seeking disability compensation.
These are all unconscionable errors on the part of those charged with serving our veterans.
But the news isn’t all bad. More and more Americans are reaching out to help. Voters across the state approved Proposition 2, which will give veterans additional credit toward civil job hiring and promotions.
There is now a “one-stop” assistance center for military veterans in Buffalo. It is at 1280 Main St., convenient to public transportation routes and near outside services such as the Veterans Housing Coalition, VA Healthcare for Homeless Veterans, City Mission, Child and Family Services and St. Vincent DePaul’s Thrift Store, to name a few. The idea is to provide wraparound services from partner agencies, coordinated by the center’s staff.
Making sure that all of our veterans have the opportunities they sacrificed to keep safe for the rest of us is the right thing to do. So, to the veterans out there, a sincere and heartfelt thank you.