As you celebrated Memorial Day this week, how did you take time to honor our veterans and, specifically, those who did not come back home alive?
Our country officially recognizes two days out of the year, set aside in remembrance of those who have served our country. Veterans Day, celebrated in November, is in honor of all those who have served, whether it was in peace time or war, while Memorial Day is specifically set aside to remember those who died in service to our country.
All of us know veterans, and too many of us know men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom and security. Perhaps someone you love is serving overseas today?
As a boy, I remember my dad taking me to the National Guard Armory with him and introducing me to the soldiers in his unit. Their brotherhood and commitment to something bigger than themselves inspired me to join the army when I graduated from college.
Throughout my 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and Alabama National Guard, I had the privilege to serve with some great men and women. There’s something unique about men and women who are willing to give their lives for their country and to die for millions of people they will never meet. It’s a spirit I’ve seen in those who serve in law enforcement, as firefighters, emergency responders and other hazardous duties outside of the military.
Thankfully, our country has mostly done a good job of taking care of those who serve in our military. From the national holidays and memorial to G.I. benefits and veterans healthcare, historically we have made a great effort to show our appreciation for our veterans.
But in recent years, our leaders at the state and federal level have let our veterans down.
Nationally, our Veterans Affairs Administration failed our veterans when it allowed so many to die waiting for healthcare in Phoenix, Ariz. Phoenix wasn’t the only location with these problems, and several leaders in the V.A. system resigned from the controversy.
Here in Alabama, our V.A. hospitals have suffered as well. In 2012, our current state leaders shut down 17 veterans’ assistance offices (which help veterans process and claim their benefits), citing budget cuts and blaming the economy. Four years later, they are still cutting the budget, the economy still hasn’t recovered, and the veterans’ hospitals are still closed!
Aside from the problems with healthcare, many of our veterans have returned home, only to become homeless. While the number of homeless veterans has decreased dramatically over the last seven years, there are still nearly 50,000 veterans living on the streets of America with no roof over their heads. In fact, veterans make up 8.6 percent of the homeless population in America.
These facts make me wonder if we’ve become complacent as a nation and as a state when it comes to our veterans. Holidays and memorials are good things to have, but many of our veterans have serious needs, and many of those needs are directly the result of their service to our country.
No veteran should be homeless. No veteran should die waiting to be seen by a doctor. And it is not acceptable to close 17 Veteran’s Assistance offices!
Yes, Memorial Day is about remembering those who died in service to our country. And I hope that everyone reading this took a few moments out of their Memorial Day to think about those who gave everything in service to our country. But as we remember their sacrifice on the battlefield, let’s also remember those who served and continue to suffer each day.
Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.