Veterans deserve America's support

In this "what about me" age, Memorial Day can seem an antiquated concept. That's a pity, both for this nation and all it should, and does, stand for. On this long holiday weekend, before hitting the road to the coast or the mountains, we should pause to remember. It's easiest, perhaps, to remember those departed souls who rest beneath long rows of stone markers that cascade across grassy hills at the nation's veteran's cemeteries.

It's harder, in a sense, to honor and serve today's American service people who're sacrificing for freedom's cause. They're often out of our sight, hunkered down in craggy ravines or barren plains a world away, enduring Taliban fire in Afghanistan or roadside bombs in Iraq.

Yes, we should pause Monday to remember their devotion to duty. And we should act with decisiveness and generosity to honor and support them while they're living.

Some would point out that Memorial Day is set aside to honor this nation's military dead. Living service people and veterans are rightly honored on Veteran's Day in November. That's an altogether fitting distinction. Even so, today's veterans deserve our attention and aid throughout the year, and in years to come. Memorial Day is a good day to redouble our efforts in this regard.

As Abraham Lincoln noted after first honoring war dead in his Gettysburg Address of 1863, "It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the great task remaining before us."

His call to action remains relevant today — on many fronts, of course, but never moreso than when it comes to our servicemen and women. After reverently pausing to observe at least the national minute of reflection on Monday afternoon, we should support efforts to ensure that members of the armed forces past and present are treated equitably and receive adequate aid when warranted and needed.

Thankfully, the U.S. has taken some needed steps toward bolstering veterans' assistance programs. This is a proper, and needed, national course of action. As needs arise, change, or increase in the future, we must be prepared to do even more.

Even with the U.S. ensnared in a vicious recession, we must stay focused on our fighting men and women, both past and present.

The new post-9/11 GI Bill that takes effect in August is a solid move forward in this regard. In today's increasingly competitive global economy that places a premium on skills and knowledge, it makes good sense to help veterans pursue further education. As these vets prepare for the future, this new financial aid will help them in their quest.

The new GI Bill provides:

» Tuition and fee payments that are capped at the amount charged in-state undergraduate students at a state's most-expensive public college.

» A monthly housing allowance.

» Up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies.

The overhauled GI Bill is a good start, but we should see to veterans' other needs, too. Providing quality health care and mental health services for them should rank high on the national priority list.

With America involved in two long-running ground wars, there's no doubt that thousands more service people will pour into the Veterans Administration and military health care systems over time.

It's fitting, then, that the fiscal year 2010 VA budget proposal expands health care eligibility to 500,000 "new enrollees" by 2013. The budget also adds $663 million to expand inpatient and outpatient long-term care services.

The VA is also wisely making provisions to care for female warriors, including providing dedicated care managers for women vets at all of its facilities.

The nation can only hope and pray that war's brutal fortunes won't increase casualties rapidly enough to overwhelm these projected needs.

While Washington must do its part for veterans in a big-picture sense, Main Street should help, too. Doing simple things to help families with overseas service members is in the finest tradition of American volunteerism. Cutting a lawn here, painting shutters there eases the strain borne by these families. Groups like the Georgia chapter of Operation Homefront also work to support military families. We're sure families of service people could use even more of our help.

When Memorial Day comes, we can all pay our respects to America's guardians of freedom by pausing for 60 seconds at 3 p.m. for the National Moment of Remembrance.

As a nation, we should remember — and act — for much longer than one minute. Look around and pitch in.

Our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and even freedom itself, deserve no less.

Andre Jackson, for the editorial board