We rightfully celebrate Memorial Day annually. Whether it was a march down your main street, a head bowed at a religious service, or a conversation with a family member who served in the military, this day belongs to all of us. I can think of few other occasions when differences of opinion are placed on pause as we remember those Americans who served on our behalf. And if we owe tribute to all of them, then those who have made the supreme sacrifice require an even higher standard of gratitude.
You are reading this on Thursday, three days after Memorial Day. While what I have written holds true for this Memorial Day, and I hope many more to come, there is an urgency about Memorial Day that transcends the past.
It’s important to honor those who gave the full measure of their devotion to our country by laying down their life. Too often, we just speak of reverence for these patriots on a certain day without demonstrating that reverence in our deeds EVERY day. When we hear or read about the high numbers of unemployment, suicides and health care challenges facing our veterans, it makes me wonder if we really care to honor the memory of those patriots at all. Though Memorial Day will have passed, we can no longer let our responsibility and obligation to their sacrifice and to our living veterans pass as well.
What should we do? Here are several areas of particular concern:
Economic opportunity - We need to engage businesses and veterans in a dialogue and with a plan of action that provides our service members with access to resources and training so that they have a greater likelihood of reentering the work force with a skill to provide for themselves and their families in the future. The bipartisan New Jersey Battlefields to Boardroom Act is a positive step in making sure that happens. You can learn more about it by clicking this link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/A2500/2183_I1.HTM
Education - We need to promote and foster increased access to education for all our veterans. There is no magic ticket to a secure economic future, but riding the train of education places you in the right direction. Let’s ensure that if a veteran wants an education, he or she has access to it. The New Jersey Tuition Equality for America’s Military law will help make this a reality. You can learn more about it by clicking this link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2014/Bills/PL15/32_.HTM
Health Care - We also need to ensure that all veterans have access to the highest standards in health care and that we provide those services in a timely manner. Write your federal representatives and tell them to fix our VA healthcare situation today!
Veterans Homelessness - Far too many veterans find a home on the street. Shame on us! We owe them more than a handshake when the return home. We owe them humane treatment and need to be forceful and forthwith in developing a policy and services so that future veterans don’t fall through the cracks when it comes to a basic human need. The New Jersey Homeless Veterans Grant Program goes into effect next year and will help address this growing concern. You can learn more about it by clicking this link: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/A2500/2011_U1.HTM
“Everybody can do something,” said President Barack Obama recently. “Every American. Every business. Every profession. Every school. Every community. Every state. All of us, as one American team. That's how we will truly honor our veterans. That's how we will truly say thank you. That's how we will uphold the sacred trust with all who've served in our name.” There is assistance for our veterans in New Jersey, and an excellent starting point is http://www.nj.gov/military/veterans/.
There is a benefits hot line 1-888-8NJ-VETS, and counseling hot line, 1-866-VETS-NJ4. Don’t hesitate to use these resources if you are a veteran, and if you’re not one, please direct your veteran friends to these services. Our military veterans served proudly for us. Isn’t it time that we proudly serve them? That’s my take. What’s yours?