”Within the soul of each Vietnam veteran there is probably something that says, ‘Bad war. Good soldier.’ Only now are Americans beginning to separate the war from the warrior.”
— U.S. Senator Max Cleland
(D-Ga., ret.), former director of the U.S. Veterans Administration and later the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Almost without fail, whenever I encounter a man or women in the uniform of any of our several branches of our armed services, I say, “Thanks for your service.” When appropriate, I also add a brief salute. It is almost always greeted by a smile and recognition of this appreciation in return.
But our thanks alone is simply not enough to acknowledge the dedication and sacrifice by each soldier and his/her family as well as their loyalty to the ideals of freedom and fighting for what is right, representing our nation on fields of battle and disaster all too numerous to mention. It is good, albeit late, that nearing a century after the close of the conflict, we are finalizing construction for a monument to the veterans and fallen dough boys of WWI in our nation’s capital. This new memorial surrounding a reworked plaza and statue of General “Black Jack” Pershing, in Pershing Park at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, is just a short walk from the White House.
Though not along the district’s grand mall of memorials and monuments, this new edifice has been primarily privately funded, and joins others already in place honoring the veterans and war dead of World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War, as well as Arlington National Cemetery nearby. But these monuments and the thanks of a grateful nation still are not enough.
As we mark and celebrate another Veterans Day, I am hoping that we consider and commit to honoring the contracts and promises made to our veterans, their families and the survivors of those who never came home.
VA Health Care System
Our Veterans administration hospitals and clinics employ more than 400,000, nearly as many as the head count of our current standing U.S. Army. And yet, concerns continue both about access to and the quality of care. Unanswered calls to suicide hotlines, with veterans making that choice in higher percentages than almost any subset of our population, remain a problem. Thanks to the leadership of former VA Director, Max Cleland, a Georgian and Vietnam era veteran, there our now nearly 400 VA mental health clinics across our nation.
Veterans’ Choice Act of 2017
Another Georgian and current chairman of the Veterans’ Committee in the U.S. Senate, Senator Johnny Isakson championed the Veterans Choice Act, which allows veterans access to private care outside of the VA Health Care delivery system, particularly when the surgery or care needed is either currently unavailable or requiring a wait of more than 30-days. The most recent extension of funding and this act was signed by President Donald Trump in a rare act of bipartisan compromise and support in April of 2017.
Veteran Housing/Mental Health/Homelessness
Substance abuse, mental health disorders, head trauma and homelessness dog our returning veteran population, from the Vietnam War to date. Affordable housing options for veterans remain limited, there are only two U.S. armed forces retirement homes, one in Washington and another in Gulfport, Miss. The VA has more than 140 facilities abandoned or no longer in use which might be renovated or converted into veterans housing, versus spending millions to simply keep these buildings and campuses closed and secured each year.
Employment options and training
The most typical career path for a returning U.S. veteran has been law enforcement for decades now. That is a noble choice, but again offers low pay and a life in harm’s way. The private sector needs to do more to create opportunities, retrain and take advantage of the work ethic so ingrained and well-trained into our nation’s military. The ESGR, Employers Support of the Guard and Reserve, are an excellent organization for returning reservists and national guard troops, but our career military are just as worthy of this transition assistance as our state militia.
Though many may choose to not support our nation’s ‘military industrial complex,’ or certain choices made by our commanders-in-chief, if you are truly a patriot, in your heart, mind and actions, your support for our soldiers, present, past and future, should be unwavering. They certainly support all of us in that fashion — and as trite as it sounds — our freedom is not free.
Bill Crane is a senior
communications strategist who
began his career in broadcasting and has worked at the state capitol and in Washington in both
political parties. Contact him at