Remember our debt to veterans

Published Nov. 10, 2012

Veterans Day is a welcome reminder in the aftermath of a divisive campaign season of the values that have always united Americans in the call to national service.

Wherever the fight took them, America's men and women in uniform have always been there to ensure that the principles of freedom and democracy are not just paper promises but real life for their own countrymen and for others over the centuries in every corner of the globe. The parades and speeches today honor that sacrifice and call attention to the enormous debt the rest of America has to the few who have put themselves on the line for our common security and welfare.

Americans should recognize this holiday by renewing the nation's commitment to its 22 million veterans. Whether they served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War or more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, these veterans have a multitude of needs that stem directly from their service.

The first priority is to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs is adequately funded and responsibly managed to meet veterans' health care needs. That will be an increasing challenge as the United States winds down its presence in Afghanistan and as a younger population that served entirely during wartime looks to manage service-related disabilities over decades. The White House and Congress should acknowledge as they work on a deficit-cutting budget deal that the VA will face broad demands in the coming years in serving a constituency that is both old and young. It will need to deal with more traumatic injuries while struggling with already heavy case loads.

The nation also should do more to help veterans make the transition back to civilian life. While 9 million veterans up to age 64 are in the labor force, unemployment is higher among younger veterans than it is in the job market overall. Employers should recognize the value of the qualities veterans bring to the workplace — teamwork, life experience and a sense of responsibility. And the federal government should give veterans the educational and job training opportunities necessary to compete in the economy.

Today's holiday provides a moment to reflect on the burden that a small share have carried to protect the ideal of American democracy. The nation has been strong in its support of its forces in uniform. But that obligation is enduring, and it should not fade away at the very joyous time that America is welcoming its forces home.