A century and a half ago this month, President Abraham Lincoln stood by the battlefield in Gettysburg and paid tribute to the sacrifices of those who died there.
“We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live,” Lincoln said in his immortal address. “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”
The fitting and proper tradition of Veterans Day dates to armistice and the end of World War I. By 1954, Congress had declared a day of honor for veterans of all wars, to be held annually on Nov. 11.
As leader of a nation torn by a civil war, Lincoln talked of “the great task remaining before us,” that of mending a rift in the fabric of the United States, so that “these dead shall not have died in vain.”
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The task before us on Veterans Day 150 years removed from Lincoln’s speech is to continue working to honor our living military heroes, the very ones we honor today and this week with somber services and patriotic songs.
U.S. census data show that there are nearly 10,000 military veterans living in Centre County.
Our responsibility on Veterans Day and on all days is to support those men and women and their families.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015. In early 2012, more than 62,000 veterans were classified as homeless, although the number had dropped by 17.2 percent in three years.
This is a veterans issue that requires continued diligence, and the federal government has dedicated $1.4 billion to such efforts this year. That’s a start.
The VA reports that half a million U.S. veterans suffer from primary or secondary post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 15 percent of veterans and service members struggle with the effects of PTSD.
A year ago, the federal government announced plans to spend $100 million on research to improve diagnosis and treatment of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said, “Ensuring that our veterans receive quality care is our highest priority.”
We agree, and urge our leaders to make PTSD programs an ongoing priority, and to focus broadly on the health and welfare of those who have served.
One example is an agreement announced Friday to reform procedures at veterans’ hospitals to reduce the risk of infectious diseases. The effort, Sen. Bob Casey said, is a reaction to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease last year at the VA Pittsburgh Health System that claimed six lives.
Veterans deserve the best care we can provide.
They also should receive educational opportunities, and many veterans are.
The VA has announced that a million veterans, military personnel and their families have now benefited from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, started in 2009.
More than $30 billion has been distributed to offset tuition costs and other expenses incurred by those who have served in our most recent conflicts.
We see good news in a new report on efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and move our military personnel out of that country.
The Pentagon says 95 percent of basic operations there are now being handled by Afghan forces.
Leaders report that Afghanistan has seen a 6 percent drop in enemy-initiated confrontations and a 22 percent drop in improvised explosive device attacks.
Non-Afghan military casualties there have dropped by 59 percent, and the number of soldiers from other countries on the ground in Afghanistan — dubbed “enabling support” — will continue to decline through 2014.
Despite so many positive signs, we have much work to do. We must remain dedicated to the task of supporting our veterans, striving to be worthy of the dedication they showed in their service.
As Lincoln paid tribute to “these honored dead,” this Veterans Day we should recommit ourselves to the work of supporting the honored living in our midst.
Thank you, veterans. We salute you.