Debt to veterans is ongoing: Each generation must renew our obligations to those who serve.

President-elect Obama and Military Veteran Tammy Duckworth.
(Keep an eye on Duckworth. We haven't seen the last of her.)

The following is a Veterans' Day Editorial in the Fresno Bee.

I endorse it fully.

Debt to veterans is ongoing: Each generation must renew our obligations to those who serve.


Abraham Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address, as the Civil War wound down, with the words that have come to define the nation's obligations to its veterans:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Caring for those who have "borne the battle" is a year-round, ongoing duty. We recall it, and celebrate the service of veterans today, on Veterans Day, but the obligation stretches out years from now. It's not just about today's veterans, but about those yet unborn who will wear the nation's uniform, fight its battles and defend its liberties.

We haven't always treated veterans as well as they deserved. The original GI Bill -- officially the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 -- was transformational for millions of World War II veterans and for the nation itself. They used its benefits to attend college and trade schools and to buy homes. In the process, they created a vastly larger American middle class.

Some form of GI Bill has been in place ever since, though the benefits have varied over the decades. A new GI Bill, affecting veterans in the post-9/11 period, will take effect in August of 2009, and offer expanded education benefits. It's an improvement over the current program, which pays a flat sum over four years, and isn't enough to finance a bachelor's degree at many colleges.

Funding for veterans health care is also going up, partly in response to media coverage in recent years of abysmal treatment for some veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mental health care must have a particularly high priority. That's crucial, because adjusting to civilian life after military service is difficult for many veterans. The enormous psychological and emotional pressures of combat must be addressed, and that's hard for many veterans, and their families, because of the stigma that's still attached to mental health issues.

It's worth remembering that veterans benefits -- particularly for education -- have a way of paying dividends to the nation all out of proportion to their cost. It's estimated that every dollar spent on the original GI Bill for World War II veterans was returned seven-fold to the nation in economic growth.

It's also worth remembering that Veterans Day began as Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War I -- the "war to end all wars." There have been more wars since then, of course, and we must expect still more in the future. We will always have veterans among us, and we must always remember the debt we owe them. But mere remembrance, though essential, is not by itself enough. These men and women have earned special consideration, and we can't let that be forgotten either.

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