Monday, November 11, 2013

What Veterans Deserve

Even as our staff gets back to work today, from an unexpected break last week, many Americans will have Monday off in celebration of Veterans Day in the United States.

As we've done every year since we began publication, we're reminding you today to thank a veteran, though we frankly hope you thank those who have served and are serving every day, whenever you encounter them. After nearly a decade and a half in Afghanistan, and a nearly decade-long war in Iraq, there are more American military veterans than at any time in recent history - and more are coming home all the time.

Even as mixed reports of readiness to leave Afghanistan filter into the American media, U.S. troops are busily dismantling our military infrastructure there in anticiptaion of the coming withdrawal. Negotiations on exactly how strong the remaining U.S. presence will be in Afghanistan after 2014 are still ongoing, even at this late date, and while a complete withdrawal of troops has been hinted at, it's unlikely.

Still, President Obama's promise to end the active war in Afghanistan begun under George W. Bush over a decade ago looks like it will happen in 2014. That means that maybe, by the time Veterans Day rolls around next year, there will be no major war zones where large numbers of American service members are stationed.

That alone is a fantastic reason to be thankful, and why maybe you should hug your favorite veteran.

There are more than few other positive signs to look at, though.

Sure, there are the simple reasons, like free goods and services around the nation for veterans and active duty service members. There's also the fact that as President Obama and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki had promised, the massive backlog of veterans' disability claims has decreased sharply, by one-third of the total, just since March. Even during the government shutdown, the backlog of cases needing attention was reduced.

Further, as of Friday, the Affordable Care Act requires all insurers and U.S. health systems - including the V.A. system - to cover care for mental health issues and addiction in the same way physical health issues are covered. This means that both veterans and their families will have affordable access to mental health care, something millions of veterans have been in desperate need of.

Of course, there's also the reality that every U.S. military veteran faces at time or another, even the one on our own small staff: That things could be worse. They certainly were worse in the Philippines over the weekend, as one of the worst storms in recorded history killed over 10,000 people in that island nation, and left millions of others homeless or in the dark. President Obama, of course, is already sending U.S. military aid to the Philippines, and many international aid agencies - often staffed by veterans - are also already working to help the millions affected by the disaster.

As many veterans can attest, the sight of members of the U.S. military coming to help in disaster-stricken regions like the Philippines has often, throughout history, given reasons for thanks from those who haven't had much hope.

While we hope that you show your appreciation to a veteran today, we also hope that all of these other news items - ending the war in Afghanistan, the decrease in veterans' claims, increased mental health care, our military helping in the Philippines - reminds you that our vets do far more than just shoot guns or fly drones.

They deserve the thanks of every grateful American - maybe even a hug or two.