With Americans once again in the heated field of battle, we owe it to our nation to question just what Veterans Day means to us. Has this national day of respect and remembrance lost its purpose? Has it become simply a day off from work so we can take advantage of the great sales?
Armistice Day was first celebrated to honor the sacrifice of those who served in World War I. In 1938, New York’s own President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a law making November 11 a national holiday. Congress officially proclaimed November 11 as a day to honor and commemorate all American Veterans in 1954.
America is unique in that it has always been protected by citizen soldiers, whose valor and dedication have often been disdained by our enemies, much to their eventual dismay. And the wars of today again find our National Guard and Reserve, as well as our professional forces, in harm’s way.
As a member of the New York State Assembly, I have always made respect for and protection of veterans a priority. Coming from a family in which we had our own Gold Star Mother, this is a personal matter for me. As Americans, it must be a personal matter for each of us.
Current deployments to the Middle East involve long and repeated tours of duty. Our troops and their families are performing above and beyond the call of duty. Because the current federal administration is not providing adequate services for our veterans and their families, I am preparing legislation which will be known as the New York Veterans’ Bill of Rights which will include:
Iraq/Afghanistan Theater Veterans Counseling: Designed to create a public/private partnership to provide additional counseling services to the thousands of New Yorkers returning from the war and their families focusing on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and physical care;
National Guard and Reservists Financial Security Act: Active duty state and private employee veterans will be entitled to their full civilian pay during overseas deployment; for private employees, tax credits will be employed to encourage their employers to provide such compensation;
Education Incentives: Those returning from overseas deployment will be entitled to free tuition at New York’s public universities and community colleges. The spouses and children of our troops killed in action or seriously injured will also be entitled to this benefit.
Our President is seeking an emergency request of $46 billion for the Middle East War, bringing 2008 war spending to almost $200 billion. Since September 11, 2001, total war spending is between $800 billion to $1 trillion. By the end of this year, spending on Iraq will likely surpass what was spent on the War in Vietnam.
While the New York Veterans Bill of Rights will cost us some tax-payer money, that amount will pale in comparison to what we are spending to prosecute this war, and whatever it does cost will not only be money well spent, but it will certainly be the least we can do to support and salute our fellow citizens who are risking their lives to protect us.
Let us all take not just a moment, but an entire day this November 11 to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made by our troops and their families. And let us do the same each and every day.