When President Woodrow Wilson designated November 11th a day to honor our nation’s veterans, he was welcoming home a generation of servicemembers from World War I. With American troops expected out of Afghanistan by 2014 and out of Iraq by the end of this year, we have a new generation of brave men and women returning home.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to a close, there will be a tendency to believe that this story is over. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the next two years, several hundred thousand men and women will return home from overseas. Making sure they have the care and benefits they have earned is up to us. In the generations to come, it will be our most important responsibility.
Several weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit our servicemembers in Afghanistan. They are in good spirits, they are performing their mission professionally and they are proud of what they have been able to accomplish. As we were touring a hospital in Bagram one night, we turned a corner to find two American servicemembers rocking Afghan children to sleep. Even after a long, hard day they came on their own time to provide comfort to those kids. That kind of compassion speaks volumes about the character of the men and women serving our nation in uniform.
Above all else, our trip underscored the importance of making sure servicemembers and their families have the support they need when they return from active duty and transition to civilian life.
While in Kandahar, we saw tremendous progress in the care our servicemembers receive after suffering a Traumatic Brian Injury (TBI). The high-quality care our servicemembers receive in the field and advances in medical technology are saving the lives of Americans we may have lost in earlier wars. But that care is only a part of their recovery journey. As they return home, we need to do a better job of rehabilitating them physically and mentally to improve the quality of their lives and the lives of their families.
While we have come a long way in improving care for our veterans and service members, our work is never done. We can prevent many problems veterans face by making sure there are no cracks to fall through when a servicemember leaves the military. That means ensuring things like easy transition of medical records to the VA; access to good jobs or education opportunities; the tools to start a business or support for military families as they transition too.
These are some of the most difficult economic times our nation has ever faced. But our returning heroes are talented, they are capable and they have made incredible sacrifices. They have left behind their homes, their families and their jobs to serve our nation. The least we can do is make sure they have access to a good paying job when they return.
To help accomplish that goal, we have been supportive of legislation that helps veterans transition and promotes the skills they learned in service to our country to employers. Our committee has also pledged to work on getting veterans unemployment to less than 5% over the next two years.
We both serve together on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. While we are not members of the same political party, we both strongly believe honoring our veterans’ sacrifices requires us to put our partisan differences aside and focus on problem-solving. We have confidence that we can continue to make progress for our nation’s veterans in a bipartisan way.
Now is the time for us to keep our promises. Simply put, our servicemembers have been there for us and now it is our turn to be there for them. This Veterans Day, as we reflect on the sacrifices these brave men and women have made, let’s commit ourselves to sacrificing for them.
To our veterans and their families: thank you for your service and for everything you have done to make this nation the greatest country on earth.