One of the most important passages in President Obamas acceptance speech Thursday had nothing to do with taxes or deficits. It had to do with our military.
Said Obama: We are forever in debt to a generation whose sacrifice has made this country safer and more respected. We will never forget you, and so long as Im commander in chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known. (And) when you take off the uniform, we will serve you as well as youve served us, because no one who fights for this country should have to fight for a job or a roof over their head or the care that they need when they come home.
Except that they do.
The president made a tacit acknowledgment of that with his words Thursday, and it is our shame as a country that such a reality exists for many in the military and those whove served and left.
Tackling their needs, especially their health needs, isnt a political issue its a moral issue, an issue of fairness and responsibility. As Obama rightly notes, theyve served us well and we must reciprocate. Those still serving us, plagued with physical and emotional injuries, deserve and need our help as well.
The Veterans Administration in the past has been slow to respond to the rising demand for health and other veterans services, particularly mental health services. The Obama administration has made inroads, but a VA report earlier this year showed some vets wait 50 days for care. With VA mental health facilities very crowded and with too few counselors and providers, one psychiatric nurse said many vets are out there floating around doing whatever they can to cope, which is usually drugs and alcohol.
In this country, that should not happen. Our service members deserve better.
The White House is responding. A week ago, Obama signed an executive order to hire more counselors and provide more services to deal with military suicides. An astounding 18 veterans a day are taking their own lives, the VA says, and the number of active duty service members committing suicide is rising too. Consider:
The Army in July faced its worst month for suicides in at least three year with 26 active duty soldiers and 12 Army National Guard or Army Reserve members suspected or confirmed as having died by suicide. The Marine Corps suffered eight suicides in July, bringing its total for the year to 32. In the Air Force this year, 55 have committed suicide, and in the Navy 39. The VA suicide hotline receives about 17,000 calls a day.
Repeated deployments in wars that are winding down had some impact on those statistics, as they do on the rising number of active duty military and vets suffering traumatic brain injuries, other severe physical injuries, and post traumatic stress disorders. Even as the wars end, the care those service members need will continue for years. Other huge problems for service members will also continue, including homelessness and joblessness.
This country owes it to those who served, and continue to serve, to help with these needs. Obama and Democratic National Convention officials were right to highlight the health and other needs of our service members. But this is not a partisan issue. Whoever wins the White House in November must make the needs of veterans and active-duty military a priority. We, the public, must insist on it.