COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 26, 2014 — This Memorial Day, veterans and those who died defending our country are on our minds, perhaps even more so than other Memorial Days.
The holiday began in 1868 when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization for Union Civil War veterans, issued a proclamation calling for “Decoration Day” to be observed annually and nationwide. The holiday has since become an official federal holiday.
The proclamation built on spontaneous memorials held as early as 1861, mostly in the Southern states.
The movement to honor and to re-consecrate the graves of fallen soldiers of the Civil War gave rise to national cemeteries. The two most well-known are at Arlington, Virginia and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was given as part of the ceremony to officially consecrate the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Since the Civil War, America has been involved in two World Wars and numerous other conflicts. We have added greatly to the numbers of our fellow citizens who have served in the defense of our country, too many of whom who have been killed, wounded or disabled.
The honor and respect which we uniformly gave to the veterans of the Revolution, the Civil War and the World Wars has not been uniformly extended to the veterans of Korea and Vietnam. Veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq have been labeled by the Department of Homeland Security as potential domestic terrorists.
Most shamefully, the Veteran’s Administration, charged with the care of sick and disabled veterans, instead allowed them to die on waiting lists. The current administration is surely to blame. The president was aware of the deplorable state of the VA in 2008 and promised to make it better. It was just another of his empty promises.
But to put the blame on the current president or the director of the VA — while they deserve our opprobrium — is to miss the larger point. They are not alone.
While advances in battlefield medicine have saved the lives of many who would have died in previous conflicts, at home the Veteran’s Administration has failed those same veterans for decades. It doesn’t seem to matter which party owns the White House or the Congress. Every veteran who has interacted with the VA knows how bad it can be.
A veteran attending the Rolling Thunder biker rally in D.C. this weekend was quoted by AFP as saying, “I’m 70 percent disabled. I know all about the VA, it didn’t come as a surprise.”
And yet it should come as a surprise. We should never hear stories like this — not because they aren’t reported, but because they don’t happen. In a country where one major political party advocates for universal health care and the other one acquiesces, we should first be able to take care of the most deserving among us.
We truly do get the government we deserve. We do not have a government our veterans deserve.