While symbols of gratitude will be on display across our great nation this Veterans Day, perhaps we should seek opportunities to genuinely – and not just symbolically – say thank you to our American heroes.
As they do every year, politicians across this country will give lofty speeches in front of monuments inspired by the fallen and built by their constituents’ hard-earned dollars. They’ll talk about honoring sacrifice and they’ll make more promises to take care of those who have taken care of us. They’ll proudly list for the cameras the bills they’ve sponsored, the votes they’ve cast and they’ll recount the number of times they’ve flown to the Middle East. They’ll tweet links to their floor speeches and post on Facebook pictures of themselves in front of American flags. And for the truly motivated, you’ll find videos of their VA hospital visits in your inbox bright and early.
But what politicians won’t tell you about in their picture-perfect versions of what it means to be a Veteran in 2015 is how their lack of leadership has led to high unemployment, homelessness, chaos at the VA and senseless deaths of those waiting for care:
- 7.2 percent of Gulf War era veterans are unemployed.
- Nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless in America.
- The number of veterans on health care waiting lists of one month or more is now 50 percent higher than it was during the massive scandal just one year ago.
- Congress allocated an additional $15 billion to improve veteran healthcare wait times, yet there are almost 500,000 appointments with extended wait times, which includes appointments with delays longer than 30 days and veterans on waiting lists to even make appointments.
As threats to our national security increase by the day, I am reminded of our first great president’s understanding of and appreciation for the sacrifices our Veterans make. George Washington 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 veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
Perhaps instead of parades and photo-ops, politicians here in Florida and across the nation can head back to Washington this Veterans Day and hammer out a deal to prioritize this great generation of American warriors. Perhaps they’ll stop making excuses, show some leadership and pay the debt we owe our Veterans. Appreciation is important, but that appreciation means nothing if we as Americans don’t demand change and punish those who have watched as the VA let thousands of our veterans die.
It is unconscionable that politicians in Washington continue to ignore the basic needs of America’s Veterans, instead opting for Band-Aids and wishful thinking. So this year, let’s ask our leaders to come down off the parade floats and honor the brave men and women who answer the call to preserve our freedoms in a salute worthy of their sacrifices.
Todd Wilcox is a U.S. combat veteran, Patriot Defense Group founder and candidate for U.S. Senate from Florida.