There is no greater gift this Veterans Day than celebrating the return of American troops from the long, brutal war in Iraq. The nation can only hope to be in the same position in 2014 under plans to wind down the war in Afghanistan. America's military families have carried an enormous burden over the last decade. The nation should use today's holiday to redouble its commitment to care for these veterans and to provide them with gratitude and opportunity upon returning home.
Bringing an end to one of two wars that already have cost more than 6,200 American lives and at least $2.5 trillion gives the nation a chance to focus energy and resources at home. But it also presents new challenges. Veterans are returning in the worst economic times in recent history. Many were uprooted from the civilian work force at the very time that employers were making decisions about whom to downsize for good. And the 47,000 servicemen and women wounded thus far will need medical and mental health services and rehabilitative care.
Congress should approve the veterans' job package that President Barack Obama proposed this week. The measure provides tax credits of up to $9,600 to employers who hire unemployed or wounded veterans. The administration also created a jobs bank, counseling services and other tools to place veterans in jobs. The federal government will need to adequately fund these programs. More than 850,000 veterans are jobless, and more than 1 million service members will leave the military between now and 2016. This represents a deep pool of skills, discipline and character the nation cannot afford to ignore.
Americans can do their part by helping veterans transition back to civilian life. Those donating to veterans support groups should be mindful that with the troops returning home, sham charities are taking advantage. Donors should check out these groups to ensure their money is going toward what they intended. And Americans should keep an eye on the Veterans Administration and Congress so that they follow through on providing veterans with the care they deserve.
Today's holiday should be a reminder for Americans to not take for granted the painful haul that America's service members have had — and that many still face. Veterans are adjusting and still coming to terms with their experiences. Their dedication to national service, and to a cause beyond themselves, would alone seem to stand them apart as co-workers, neighbors and fellow citizens. So welcome them home in ways that repay their belief in the American ideal.