BY THE TIME he offered his second inaugural address in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln had completed a first term of office marked by four years of Civil War. He had witnessed, at times firsthand, the horrific toll of death and destruction. The war left 624,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead—half the cost of all U.S. wars before and since—and 476,000 wounded.
Lincoln challenged the nation, “With malice toward none, with charity for all ... to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ....” It was a commitment to those who served their country that we would look after them, and the families of those who gave their all.
We set aside Nov. 11 as Veterans Day, the day we officially remember and give thanks to all who served. But it is every day that our debt of gratitude must be paid, without exception. And every day we must ask ourselves: Are we doing enough?
America’s veterans represent an elite group who have earned our gratitude for as long as they live. They have served in times of war and peace, always in defense of our country. Through the first two decades of this millennium, peace is something we can only pray will come soon.
These days, in the post-military draft era, the ranks of the U.S. armed forces are filled with volunteers, men and women who signed up almost exclusively on their own volition to serve their country, making an unselfish choice if there ever was one. We are proud of them and grateful to them, one and all.
When their service has been completed, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs assumes the mantle of looking after our veterans for as long as they live. Though it is expensive and logistically challenging, there is no question that it must be done. It is, quite simply, the nation’s responsibility.
So we wonder and worry when we learn that veterans are dissatisfied and frustrated with the service or care they are receiving.
We wonder why only 7 percent of veterans described their health as “excellent” in 2018, according to the international consumer data supplier statista.com, and how nearly 15,000 veterans can be listed as “unsheltered homeless,” or living outdoors.
Of the nearly 20 million living U.S. veterans, how can some 1.2 million of them—including 494,000 over age 65—be living in poverty? Does the safety net we have constructed have too many holes? Are we not spending enough money to help veterans who need our help?
In 2014, a VA inspector general report made reference to records that showed that more than 300,000 veterans had died awaiting appointments or treatment with the VA. Fact-checking put that number in doubt, but the possibility that any veterans would die while awaiting medical care from the very agency set up to provide it is unacceptable.
In the wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. troops have been issued technologically advanced gear and body armor designed to save their lives. But they have nevertheless suffered grave and debilitating injuries that may require care for their lifetimes.
For veterans living in and around Fredericksburg, we hope that plans for a new VA hospital in the area are expedited, and that the facility is up and operational without delay.
The investments we make in our veterans have been proven to pay dividends. In 1944, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill, was passed by Congress to help World War II veterans make the adjustment back to civilian life. Similar legislation has been written since to extend that assistance.
A 1988 congressional study, according to a 2017 essay by Army veteran and former federal official Phillip Carter in the publication “Foreign Affairs,” estimated that for every $1 the government spent on educational and other veteran benefits, nearly $7 was returned to public coffers in increased tax revenue or added economic output.
Who wouldn’t appreciate a return like that?
Today’s Free Lance–Star includes our special section “Salute to Veterans,” recognizing the hundreds of veterans with family in the Fredericksburg area. As you read through it, be sure to give thanks for the sacrifices they made on our behalf.