Without honor, there is no victory
Monday, we will gratefully acknowledge the sacrifices of those who died serving our country. But, to ensure those sentiments are translated into action, not just lip service, it is important to do more than place a bouquet of flowers and a flag at the cemetery once a year.
To truly pay our servicemen the honor they deserve, we must renew our commitment to care for living veterans and to support the families of those who are currently serving.
In the post-war era, Memorial Day ceremonies have typically focused on the heroics of the "Greatest Generation, " the surviving heroes of World War II, and while their stories still stir our sense of patriotism, we continue to add new, equally heroic veterans to their ranks.
Among them are the returnees from Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Some have returned to busy, productive civilian lives, others are not as fortunate. Wounded physically or emotionally, they rely on federal benefits to survive.
This month Congress approved the Military Quality of Life and Veterans Appropriations Act intended to bring benefits in line with the increasing costs of living and health care. A portion of the new funding has been earmarked in 2007 for treatment of post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of psychiatric care. The legislation also puts the Veterans Administration on notice that it must reduce its claims backlog by November. These measures are particularly important in light of research that shows, due to improvements in medical technology, soldiers are surviving more serious injuries and therefore there is a growing need for rehabilitation programs.
In many ways, though, these increases still are not enough. In particular they do not address the pressure on families of National Guardsmen who were not prepared for extended separations. Nor do they adequately cover lifetime medical benefits for permanently disabled veterans.
Another way to honor the armed forces is to hold its administrators accountable for maintaining battlefield procedures that are beyond reproach. This week, news is emerging of another case of American soldiers allegedly violating international rules of conflict. The incident, involving the deaths of as many as 15 Iraqi civilians, reportedly took place in Haditha last November and was covered up by their commanders. The details, just now coming to light, have the potential to tarnish the military’s reputation around the world and do irreparable damage to American soldiers’ morale. The public must pressure the government to take swift action to determine the facts of the case.
This weekend, especially, Americans must be willing to take on additional responsibilities in supporting the armed services. We need to increase our financial commitment to the long-term care of returning veterans and we must continue to hold military leaders to the highest standards of conduct. That would be the most meaningful Memorial Day tribute we could offer this year.
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