FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR
COMING as it does in the wake of a highly partisan and still contested presidential election, celebrating Veterans Day could easily be an afterthought. It shouldn’t be. Because honoring the sacrifices made by the 18 million military veterans living in our midst, and remembering the more than 1.1 million who died in service to their country throughout our history, can and should unite Americans of all political stripes.
After the often shoddy treatment given to veterans coming home from Vietnam during another era of great political and cultural upheaval, Americans have thankfully returned to a more historic and grateful view of those in uniform. But the obstacles they face as they reenter civilian life are just as formidable now as they were in the past.
The great leaps forward in war zone trauma care over the past few years means that many more wounded service members survive horrific injuries than ever before. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed services developed more than 27 major medical innovations to deal with casualties of improvised explosive devices, which lowered the battlefield death rate by 50 percent—to the lowest level in the history of warfare.
These new medical techniques not only saved the lives of many warriors with wounds that were once considered unsurvivable, they are already improving the care of civilian trauma patients. But it also means there are many more disabled veterans that will need care for the rest of their lives.
In the Fredericksburg region, the new Veterans Administration clinic that will be built in Spotsylvania County will offer local veterans state-of-the art treatment, a far cry from the wait-until-they-die mentality of the VA in the past.
And at the urging of local veterans groups, a bitterly divided Congress managed to pass bipartisan legislation this year to establish the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act, co-sponsored by Fredericksburg-area Reps. Rob Wittman, R–1st, and Abigail Spanberger, D–7th, which steers veterans with service-related mental health and substance abuse problems to court-supervised treatment programs instead of jail.
The new federal program will support existing veterans courts at the state and local level, including the Rappahannock Veterans Docket presided over by Spotsylvania Circuit Judge Ricardo Rigual, that give troubled veterans accused of non-violent crimes a second chance to successfully transition back to civilian life. The Stafford County-based National Vet Court Alliance Inc. successfully lobbied for its passage.
Beyond parades and flag-waving, which certainly have their place, these are both tangible ways to thank veterans for their service. But the nation should not rest until all our wounded warriors are given the support and care they were promised.
The freedoms Americans enjoy, including the right to express their political views and to vote for the candidates of their choice, are not the norm in most of the world. They were bought and paid for with the blood of patriots, living and dead.
On Veterans Day 2020, it behooves us to remember that we all remain in their debt.