This Veterans Day marks a period of comfort and hope as thousands of service men and women return home from the war in Afghanistan intent on reuniting with their families — and coping with enduring pain from combat duty and the uncertainty of civilian life. The long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sensitized the country over the past decade to the incredible sacrifice that so few in our society took on, to the physical, mental and financial challenges that many will face the rest of their lives, and to the enduring obligation this nation owes to its military families. The spirit of the holiday must be put into everyday practice.
This nation always has responded to a call to arms to protect the freedoms that make America unique. It has taken on the cause of liberty throughout the world when peace, security and human rights were threatened in the far reaches of the globe. This holiday is an occasion to pause and honor that sense of duty. And it's made more meaningful by the nation acknowledging the debt it owes in return to veterans and their families.
With America's presence in Afghanistan scheduled to wind down by the end of 2014, the nation is coming to terms with the needs of its veterans just as fewer Americans can personally relate to the experience. The gap between military and civilian life has grown wider for years; veterans make up 7 percent of the population, about half the portion in 1970 during the Vietnam War and before the end of the draft. Only one in five members of Congress has any military experience. Even as the plight of our military veterans returning home with physical and emotional scars has received more attention, too many Americans still are unaware of the challenges these returning warriors face. Congress should not lose sight of the need for ready access to a full range of veterans' services, from advanced medical care to housing, educational assistance and job training.
The nation's obligations don't end when the hostilities do. Nine million veterans are in the workforce. One-fourth of those disabled have serious injuries. These men and women are a cross-section of America, and the nation's responsibility to them will only grow. Florida, home to the third-largest veterans population after California and Texas, should be especially sensitive. The welfare of veterans impacts the state's economy, and officials need to ensure that these families get the care and benefits they have earned. That's our civic trust this holiday.