Guest Opinion: We Can And Should Do More To Help Our Veterans

There is real pride a person has in knowing that they come from a family with a veteran.

I am not a veteran, but my grandfather, James Cosby Sr., served in the Navy during World War II. He passed down a saying that captures the essence of our veterans’ collective sacrifice — some gave all, but all gave something. In return for our veterans’ extraordinary sacrifice, they deserve extraordinary appreciation — not just on Veterans Day, but every day.

Few of us can imagine what it is like to serve in the military, and even fewer can comprehend what it is like to serve in a combat zone. Less than 1 percent of our nation’s population serves in the military. For those of us who have not served in our armed forces, we must use Veterans Day as a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice our veterans have made in service to our country, and on behalf of our freedoms and democracy.

It is important to acknowledge that not all of our veterans have been fully recognized for their service. Those who fought during World War I, Korea or in Vietnam were not shown the same level of respect they deserved. The First World War was a brutal conflict that was seen by some as a “European war.” The Korean War was called the “forgotten war.” And Vietnam was surrounded by domestic political conflicts. History should not diminish the sacrifices made by these soldiers and their families.

Recently, as a society, we have learned from those attitudes and we are more demonstrable in honoring our military members, including those who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. We applaud them during sporting events. We tie yellow ribbons in their honor. We make videos of them reuniting with their families go viral.

However, our veterans face distinct issues when they return to civilian life. We can and should do more to help these men and women. Since I became chairman of the New Jersey Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee last spring, I have made this my priority.

During my first year in the Senate, I have introduced dozens of initiatives that address the broad range of concerns of veterans, including tax relief, education, housing, employment, nutrition and readjustment. I have also taken action to honor soldiers from New Jersey who have died in the line of duty, like Sgt. Dominick Pilla and Cpl. Jamie Smith, by designating Oct. 3 after them. These proposals were created by talking with and gathering the input of veterans and veterans’ organizations.

For close to eight years, I have represented a portion of Burlington County that is home to those serving at both Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base, which are among the largest employers in the region. We have a special bond with the military and our veterans because of our connection to the bases. Burlington County is also home to the second-highest concentration of veterans in the state.

I am filled with pride every time I meet a veteran who is also one of my bosses or constituents, as some may say. These men and women, whether they are in harm’s way or support those who are, have made our military second to none. They are frequently away from their families, placing their civilian lives on hold, to meet their military obligations. It is because of their presence, their commitment and their skill that we sleep peacefully at night.

I look at the veterans who come to our meetings and see the level of pride they exude, knowing they have to advocate for the veterans and soldiers who cannot. We must continue to cherish this pride and teach it to our younger generations — the respect we give to our veterans is one in which we recognize the extraordinary sacrifices they and their families have made for our country.

Even though there is one day out of the year to honor, thank and appreciate veterans, it should not stop us from doing those things the rest of the year. So when you see a veteran on Veterans Day, or any day, make sure you shake their hand and humbly thank them for their extraordinary service to our country.

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