Sen. John Thune
On Veterans Day in 1988, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. After the president delivered his remarks, he left a handwritten note at the memorial’s edge addressed to “our young friends.” The note read, in part, “You fought for your country and for its safety and for the freedom of others with strength and courage. We love you for it. We honor you.” President Reagan’s words captured the moment, as they often did, but his message transcends time.
America had seen conflict before the Vietnam War, and as we all know, it’s seen conflict since then, too. My dad served in the Navy during World War II on the USS Intrepid. As a young Navy pilot, he flew important missions that helped protect U.S. service members and advance the cause of freedom in the Pacific theater. I’ve long believed that while “The Greatest Generation” is an honor every one of those brave men and women deserve, my dad included, it almost seems insufficient when you begin to fully understand the sacrifice they’ve made.
South Dakota is home to more than 70,000 veterans, and I appreciate hearing from them as I travel across the state because the issues they face are real, and they’re often unique to those who’ve served. I take their concerns seriously, as does my staff, of which several have also served their country in uniform. And as an elected official, I consider it a top priority to ensure the men and women returning home from war receive all of the benefits and care they deserve.
It’s no secret that the scars of war are not only physical, but they’re emotional, too. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 20 veterans take their own lives each day due, in part, to the invisible wounds with which they cope after returning home from combat. That’s more than 7,000 soldiers whose lives are lost each year to suicide – more deaths than the United States suffered during the entirety of our battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We have to reverse this trend and work harder to fulfill our commitment to our veterans. In the Senate, I’ve introduced legislation that would improve the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, which can be a critical lifeline for veterans who want and need to speak directly with someone who understands what they’re going through. Part of fulfilling our commitment to veterans means fixing this system so when they call, someone is there to answer.
As Americans, we’re blessed with innumerable opportunities throughout the year to celebrate with friends, family, and our communities. Veterans Day is a special time on which we all can reflect, because without the sacrifice of America’s veterans – the bravest and most noble among us – the United States wouldn’t look the same.
Happy Veterans Day, America, and thank you to all who’ve served.