Abraham Lincoln said it best in his second Inaugural Address as the Civil War was coming to an end. "...let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan...." Care was less sophisticated then; one cavalry troops was told they could keep the horses; they'd need them for spring plowing.
The best job we've ever done of caring for those who have borne the battle was, I think, with the GI Bill which became law at the end of World War II. It paid a generation which could never have afforded college enough money to earn a degree. I met some them--I was just starting college, they were finishing up--and they were doing fine--not living lavishly--who in college was?--but able to afford tuition and books and food and rent. They graduated.
Another part of the Bill offered veterans who wanted to buy a house low-interest mortgages. A man named Leavitt pioneered building low cost homes--seven thousand dollars or so, unimaginable today--and the face of America changed. That first GI Bill, whether Congress intended it or not, turned out to be one of the most important pieces of social legislation in our history. It changed the country.
We haven't done as well by veterans since--help with college, but often not enough to pay all the bills, and so one. And the veterans of our two current wars--Iraq and Afghanistan--face special problems. They are sent back for more than one tour, which adds stress and tension to their lives. Some are badly hurt physically, wheelchair bound or using complicated prostheses which they handle--the few I've met--with astounding courage and grace.
But money is short. The Washington Post won journalism awards last year for pointing out inadequate care being given to some vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington.
I read, Mr. President-elect, that your priority will be to focus on our distressed economy, and no wonder. But you might want to give a thought, this Veterans' Day, to those who "shall have borne the battle" and how we can better pay them what we owe them, which is a lot.
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