Recently on a cool, overcast Saturday morning, veterans from around California representing all branches of military service, gathered at the State Capital building to send a united message to our government leaders: leave no veteran behind. After fighting to protect the citizens of this nation, we are realizing we still need to fight. This time the fight is about protecting benefits that were promised to us when we entered service to our country.
I'm a veteran. I served my country for 26 years. My wife is a veteran, she served her country. Our son is an Air Force Captain, proudly serving his country. I took an oath when I was sworn in as an officer "to defend the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic." I've kept my word to my country. All of our troops, both veterans as well as those currently serving, swore an oath and gave their word to protect their country. We kept our word. We put our faith in our country and trusted it to keep its promise to us.
A lot of people say they support veterans and support the troops, but disappointingly their interest is often limited to our participation in Fourth of July parades and Veterans Day events. It seems to make people uncomfortable to be reminded that some of us died; some are scarred by fire and explosion; and some have lost arms or legs. While we are proud of our sacrifices, many of us need extra support after we return to our lives and families.
Not everyone is directly affected by cuts to benefits and services provided to veterans and their families, but it's clear our state and country are impacted by the quality of support provided to veterans once they return home.
Millions of veterans returned home from World War II. Thousands of veterans returned home from Korea. Over 3 million veterans served in Vietnam. Over 500,000 veterans served in Desert Storm. We do not know how many veterans will return from Iraq and Afghanistan, but already more than 350,000 veterans have returned from this war.
Consider these statistics:
On a typical day in California, three veterans will commit suicide.
One in three homeless people is a veteran.
Substance-abuse rates are twice that of nonveterans.
More than 200,000 veterans are in prison.
Our country promised us medical care and educational opportunities. Our country also promised help for our families and jobs when we returned home.
When promises made to veterans are broken it weakens our national security. George Washington once said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive how the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation." Will promises made during recruitment be honored or will cuts in funding for veterans' benefits and services be utilized to balance an out of control national budget?
We need to support the troops with more than stickers and flags on our cars. There is a moral obligation to provide veterans with adequate benefits and services that transcends politics. We need to overcome barriers such as political party affiliations and join together to protect veterans' benefits and hold our government accountable.
On Veterans Day, I urge you to support the troops by joining with veterans and their families in demanding our government officials honor the promises made to us. We've kept our promise to our country. We only ask that our country keep the promises made to us.
Lt. Colonel Charles Brown, USAF (retired), is a congressional candidate in California's District 4. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org via e-mail.