Opinion: Renewing our commitment to those who serve
This week, Americans will come together in remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of our country and in the fight for freedom and democracy around the world. To these fallen soldiers, we owe a debt we can never fully repay.
Early this year, I stood with the governor at a Hartford armory to bid farewell to 700 Connecticut National Guard troops deploying to Afghanistan. I looked out at that sea of incredibly young faces, their moms, dads, wives, husbands and siblings surrounding them with palpable pride, and of course, anxiety.
I didn't know what to say. It was perhaps my most difficult moment as a congressman. How do you thank an 18-year-old who has raised his hand and said, essentially, "I -- and my family -- will sacrifice, perhaps all, so that you and your values and ideals can be secure?" You can't, at least not adequately.
But that does not mean you can't start and finish every day trying to do so. In Congress, we have worked to address the shameful erosion of our support for veterans that had developed over the years, and which has resulted in too many of our returning heroes finding themselves forlorn, homeless, or worse.
The post-Sept. 11 G.I. bill is providing soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan access to a full, four-year college education. We have created new incentives for businesses to hire unemployed veterans, and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act increased financial assistance to close to 2 million disabled veterans receiving V.A. compensation or pensions. We passed legislation this year that improves the way we fund the Veterans Administration. We have strengthened health care for women veterans, including providing health care for newborn children and expanding PTSD treatment services for women.
Our towns and cities are entering into Covenants of Care in which they formally pledge to support our soldiers and their families in every way possible. Gil Sanborn, a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, organized such a covenant in Weston last week. Greenwich's Covenant led it to explore ways to provide better health care to its military families.
And as individuals, we can remember and thank. We can consider the enormity of the burden and sacrifice deemed routine by those who wear our uniform. We can thank and reach out to their families, who have been called to bear the weight for all of us.
Our thanks, of course, will never feel fully adequate. We can never fully repay the sacrifices made by our veterans. But that knowledge must drive us to set aside our divisions and complacency to try our best.
Democrat Jim Himes, U.S. congressman, represents the 4th Congressional District.