Our opinion: The debt to veterans

Monday November 12, 2012

As we pay tribute to America’s war veterans, we hope that Tuesday’s national elections will ensure that no new wars will tax our military in the years ahead. The Iraq war is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, and America needs to focus on doing better in addressing the needs of veterans who have returned and are returning from foreign lands.

Advances in medicine can enable soldiers to survive injuries that would have been fatal in past wars, but those injuries often require years of treatment at crushing financial costs. Veterans often come back uninjured phys ically but with traumatic psychological wounds, and they too may need years of help at significant cost. America was slow to address these needs at the height of the two wars, but has done better over the past two or three years. As those wars mercifully pass into history, those who fought cannot be forgotten.

Returning veterans also need good jobs, and the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in cooperation with MassMEDIC is addressing this in part with a program announced last week to train up to 50 Massachusetts veterans for jobs in medical technology, a thriving sector of the state and U.S. economy. The unemployment rate for recently returned veterans stands at 10 percent, compared to the national average of 7.9 percent, and more programs like this one will help the state and nation repay the debt to fighting men and women.

Vietnam veterans are still struggling to get their due, and passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2011 by Congress would help Navy veterans of Viet nam who are dealing with illnesses caused by exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange. That assistance is currently offered only to those who had "boots on the ground" in Vietnam, but studies indicate that the dangerous chemical made it on to Navy vessels, exposing sailors as well.

World War II veterans are dwindling in number but still thrive among us. The same is true for veterans of the war in Korea. All deserve our respect, and all deserve our assistance in addressing their needs, now and in the future.


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