I recently hard a poem entitled “It is the Soldier,” by Charles Michael Province:
It is the soldier, not the minister who gave us the freedom of religion.
It is the soldier, not the reporter who gave us the freedom of press.
It is the soldier not the poet who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer who gave us the freedom to protest.
It is the soldier, not the lawyer who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the soldier, not the politician who has given us the right to vote.
It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, and who allows the protester to burn the flag.
This poem reminds us that without men and women who were willing to serve our nation (frequently in harm’s way), the freedoms and privileges we enjoy are little more than just empty promises. The words of the above poem, of course, are not to be applied literally. To those who have a true understanding of its meaning, it is obvious that without our military members willing to defend, those freedoms we cherish would quickly disappear. It is imperative that our gratitude and our respect for their service be sincere, be respectful, and be long enduring.
It is also imperative we provide for those veterans who now need our help. Even with the commitment we made to honor their heroism, too many of our veterans are living without proper care and support. Consider these statistics:
* Each night in the USA, there are more than 50,000 homeless veterans sleeping wherever they can find a shelter.
* Veterans make up more than 55% of all homeless individuals on our streets today.
* The suicide rate among those who have served our nation is 50% higher than those who have not served.
Here is Missouri, where we make a concerted effort to do all we can for our veterans, we still see approximately 2,000 of them on a list, waiting to receive a place in one of Missouri’s seven veteran’s homes. Perhaps some good news is that Missouri is a state willing to do all we can to help our more than 490,000 Missouri veterans, and Missouri’s economy is boosted by nearly 50,000 veteran-owned businesses. Additional efforts to invest in veterans through job-training and educational opportunities saw more than 14,000 veterans go back to school, receiving more than $55 million in assistance in 2014. Our state has also worked to help veterans overcome substance abuse problems by creating Veteran’s Treatment Courts. Because of these efforts, not only have thousands received the training they need to get better, higher paying jobs, but we have also seen the suicide rate among veterans in our state drop by 37% over the past few years. These are all positive signs and reasons why we should take pride in our state and the way we acknowledge and treat our veterans.
However, we know there is always more that can and should be done. Something as simple as expressing our gratitude by saying “Thank you” to someone we know who has served in the military, or perhaps donating our time or money to charitable organizations who work with our veterans can make profound differences. For us who serve in the legislature, it means we must continue to find policy solutions for the issues faced by our veterans.
Let’s everyone vow to show respect to our veterans, not just one day a year as we did last week, but, rather, each and every day. As someone said, “Their extraordinary accomplishments have created an extraordinary debt that we must consistently work to repay.” Their sacrifices have given us the nation we love, and their commitment to service has protected the freedoms we all hold dear, including the freedom to vote. For all our veterans have done, let us always be grateful.