America is home to nearly 22 million military veterans, who Sunday we honor on Veterans Day. Of those, a large percentage are veterans of foreign wars thanks to the United States’ involvement in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — and that says nothing of the smaller number of World War II and the Korean War veterans still alive. Today, there still are 7.5 million living veterans of the Vietnam War, which claimed more than 58,000 American lives.
Alabama represents that uniquely American picture. Our state is home to 405,600 veterans. Of those, 302,800 are war veterans.
Alabama’s uniformed men and women have paid a price.
We applaud the end of the needless war in Iraq, and we’ll rejoice when America’s military completes its drawdown in Afghanistan. Though the United States will always have a strong military presence in certain regions, it will be refreshing when American soldiers are given a well-deserved respite from serving in active war zones.
That said, the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t without their own concerns.
Chief among them is veterans’ health. Only now does it seem the military is taking strong-enough measures to combat the rate of active-duty suicides. This year, a record 270 U.S. soldiers have committed suicide. The number of multiple deployments, lengthy periods away from home and repeated life-and-death missions are taking an inhuman toll on America’s fighting man.
Once out of uniform, this ever-increasing number of veterans represents a responsibility for Veterans Affairs. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of U.S. soldiers who have served in wartime and suffered varying forms of disability has dramatically increased. As such, the amount of disability payments to wounded veterans has risen, as well.
For example, in 2000, the United States paid $14.77 billion in disability claims to veterans, according to data from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service. That figure increased to $36.48 billion in 2010 — an increase of 147 percent. Veterans Affairs and Washington politicians should be ashamed of the countless reports of what McClatchy describes as “backlogged” claims applications for disabled veterans.
These men and women served their country. Their country should serve them well, and as quickly as possible, when they return.
In his election acceptance speech Tuesday night, President Obama described America as “a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops.” We concur. On this holiday weekend, we honor those who have worn the nation’s uniform and urge Washington to spare no expense in assisting those who have given so much for so little in return.