If any sentiment spanned the political divide during last month’s government shutdown, it was disgust at seeing veterans unable to visit the national monuments meant to honor their service and memorialize the fallen. That offense was fleeting, but the nation’s solemn gratitude to its veterans must be steadfast.
The nation has 21 million living veterans, including 1.6 million from World War II, 2.3 million from the Korean War, 7.4 million from Vietnam and 5.4 million who have served since the Gulf War. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10 percent of Kansans are veterans – higher than the 8.9 percent of the U.S. population.
And the commitment to meeting the needs of the nation’s veterans must grow as the Afghanistan war winds down next year and more members of the military find and take their places in civilian life.
Veterans due benefits should not have to wait months or even years because of a computer-related claims backlog.
Getting the needed care should not be a fight for the estimated 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.
And it’s a shame that the nation has 62,600 veterans among the homeless, including 56 identified during the Point in Time Count in Wichita last January.
While members of the Kansas delegation do their part, including by ensuring VA services are protected from spending cuts under sequestration, there are ways for individuals to assist and honor veterans:
• Donate time as a volunteer or make a contribution to the work of the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center, via the Dole VAMC Voluntary Service Office (316-685-2221, ext. 53222). Or attend the ribbon cutting and dedication of the center’s memorial peace garden at 10 a.m. Monday.
• Participate in the program, wreath laying and open house at 11 a.m. Monday at Veterans Memorial Park, 339 N. Veterans Parkway. Or help construct the park’s Operation Freedom Memorial (buy a paving stone or otherwise contribute via the Operation Freedom Memorial Foundation, P.O. Box 782414, Wichita, KS 67278, or go to www.ofm-ks.com).
• Celebrate and support Wichita State University’s new Military and Veteran Student Center, which opens in 107 Lindquist Hall with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. Monday.
• Attend the ceremony at the Derby Area Veterans Memorial Walk of Freedom in Garrett Park at 2 p.m. Monday.
• Or simply seek out a veteran and say “thanks.”
As President Eisenhower said in his 1954 Veterans Day proclamation changing the name of what had been Armistice Day: “Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”