Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Today is Veterans Day. On this occasion, Americans honor the military tradition that has stood guard over our freedoms since the birth of our nation. And while we remember yesterday’s heroes, there also is a need to take measure of the condition of the veterans in our midst today.

In many cases, the simplest and most important needs are not met, even for those wounded returning home from combat. On this day of remembrance, there are numerous opportunities to give a little back. More than 3 million veterans are disabled from all causes. Of those, more than 260,000 are considered 100 percent disabled. Thankfully, because U.S. combat medics are so skilled under fire, more wounded war fighters are being saved in combat than ever before in history. While this is a positive step forward that prevents many heroes from being killed in action, there are enormous costs to helping the wounded during and after rehabilitation.

To date, more than 33,000 Americans have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs budget for fiscal 2009 is $94 billion, which is a sizable increase of 7 percent over the previous year. Still, the butcher’s bill during a multiple-front war is outpacing VA’s capability to do what is needed. The fact of the matter is that government does not have the ability to take care of all of the needs of America’s veterans and wounded service members. Sometimes, red tape ties up the numerous and vexing approval, appropriation and implementation stages of even the most straightforward government programs. Under the best of circumstances, there is too much to do, and the competing demands for funds mean many worthy projects will never be realized. No matter the reason, the fact remains that the private sector and private individuals are needed to fill the gaps where government is unwilling or unable to do the job.

One example of such a private endeavor is the $12.5 million veterans and wounded warriors lodge being built in Palo Alto, Calif., by the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation. The Palo Alto VA hospital has one of the world’s most sophisticated poly-trauma facilities to treat veterans with injuries to more than one major organ system, including brain damage. The problem is that many patients have nowhere to stay and sometimes must drive up to 50 miles each way every day for treatment. To fill this gap, the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation, a private charity dedicated to helping veterans, is building a lodge to house these wounded warriors for free. Another example is the Military Heroes Fund, which has built a hospice room at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, and is offering emergency financial assistance to veterans facing hardship because of their service. Dream Makers offers $5,000 grants to help veterans buy their first homes, and the Military Officers Association of America has a scholarship fund to pay college tuition to children of uniformed service members killed in action.

There are 25 million U.S. veterans alive today, about 75 percent of whom served during wartime. They sacrificed with honor and distinction when this country needed brave Americans to put their lives on the line. Now, for many, their lives are in the balance and they need our help. This Veterans Day, as you give your thoughts to those who have sacrificed in uniform, consider giving them a hand, too.

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