Every Nov. 11 our nation sets aside a day to honor the service our fellow citizens have rendered us all by pledging their lives and their sacred honor to the defense of their country. But the truth is, for the nation as a whole, it is literally the least we can do.
According to the Census Bureau, as of last year there were around 21.8 million living veterans of the armed forces. About 2 million live in California, another 1.6 million each in Texas and Florida. About 2.5 million are veterans of Iran and Afghanistan, a little over 2 million are from the Korean War, almost 7.4 million are from the Vietnam era, and a little under 1.7 million served during World War II (a number which is dwindling quickly).
For a nation of almost 320 million souls, that’s a remarkably small percentage, especially considering we have been the military bulwark of what was once called the Free World (and I think should still be) for decades. We’ve been almost continually engaged in armed conflict, either hot or cold, somewhere in the world for the better part of the last 75 years. Throughout that period of time most of the burden of defending our way of life has fallen on precious few of us.
Which begs a question. Every night something like 50,000 veterans go to sleep without a roof over their heads. Veteran unemployment remains stubbornly high, especially for those from the post-9/11 era, and veterans complete a bachelor’s degree at a much lower rate than the general population, including those who have served since 2001.
Yet 89 percent of the veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan still say they “made the right choice.”
That kind of dedication, commitment, patriotism and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good creates a moral obligation for all Americans -- a duty to support our veterans at a level which matches their own sense of duty to our wider society. It’s a moral obligation which we have so far failed to fully meet. And it’s time for that to change.
One thing each of us can do is take direct action. The Modern Whig Party’s Veterans Volunteer Initiative is meant to be a conduit for our party members and sympathizers to contribute some of their time helping the VA provide needed services to our vets. It’s a way for us to answer the traditional Whig call to public service, and I highly encourage you to take advantage of this excellent opportunity to serve, in person, those who have done so much to serve you.
[For information, you can contact our Director of Veterans and Active Duty Affairs, Lt. Col. (ret.) Douglas Harvey, at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Another thing each of us can do is make our voices heard. It’s easy to be cynical sometimes, but the truth is our elected leaders simply must respond when enough of us get behind a cause. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than insisting our representatives in Congress find a way to fully fund the Veterans Administration, as well as establish adequate levels of pay and pensions for our active duty and reserve military personnel.
We seem to be able to find enough money for all manner of initiatives, including some which are pretty wasteful and seem to serve little purpose. There’s simply no excuse for not finding the funds in our federal government’s budget to fully support those who give, and have given, so much while asking for so little in return.
Finally, we can remain ever vigilant. As the most recent VA hospital scandal showed, even the best intentions can go badly awry sometimes. It’s just part and parcel of the flawed nature of all human endeavor. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.
If you hear a story about a veteran getting substandard care -- or worse yet, no care at all -- report it. Publicize it. Get others to do the same. By working together we can let those in positions of responsibility know we’re watching, and we will hold them to account for their performance.
And if you know of a homeless vet, get in touch with the relevant local service organization (especially the VA) and try to help them get off the street. Many locales also now have county-level veterans organizations, and both the American Legion and the VFW have branches virtually everywhere. By talking to each other, thinking creatively and reaching out to those in the best position to help we can surely do better than we’ve done so far.
Remember always, the liberty and prosperity we enjoy in our great nation comes at a price, and our veterans are the ones who have paid it. Many of them continue to pay long after their service is completed. It is often far too much to ask of them, but doing all we can to support them is never too much to ask of us. I urge you to step up as they have stepped up, do whatever you can for them, and in so doing make your own contribution to our country’s defense. It’s much better than the least we could do.
Michael Burger is the national chair of The Modern Whig Party of America.