Today we honor the bravest men and women our county has ever known: our veterans. Life in the military is not an easy one. Milestones big and small are missed. From the first words and the home run hit, to birthdays and graduations; these are moments that can never be recreated. Tom Brokaw called those who served in World War II the “Greatest Generation.” He argued that they fought not for fame and glory, but simply because it was the right thing to do. This has held true for every soldier who has graced our military.
We have lost over one million American men and women, real heroes, since our nation’s founding. The debt we owe our veterans could never be repaid. Today as we reflect on the valuable service of our military, we must ask ourselves: are we serving our veterans as honorably as they have served us?
We could never attempt to put a dollar amount on what we owe to our veterans, but we must be sure we are doing all that we can to rectify the problems that come with defending our nation, whether in times of peace or war. This means we must face some hard realities.
None of us need to be reminded of the economic situation of our country as the national unemployment rate pushes ten percent. However, little is said about the more than fifteen percent unemployment rate facing our veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Nor do we hear of the problems that plague the thirty United States veterans who attempt suicide every day. A recent study of California Veterans between the ages of 18 and 25 found that they are two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than civilians their same age.
Post traumatic stress disorder and alcohol and substance abuse affect a profound number of veterans. And while only 8 percent of the general population is homeless, U.S. veterans account for nearly 20 percent of those living on our streets. We hear statistics like these and we have to stop and ask ourselves: are we really doing all that we can to help?
I submit to you that we are not, and we must make every effort to do better.
The cost of benefits and support for them is merely a drop in the bucket of lives and limbs that they have paid to secure our freedom.
Many of you have asked, “What can I do to help?” The best help you can give begins with you, and often starts right on your own street. Whether there is a family struggling during deployment of the soldier, or a veteran struggling with the aftermath of war, don’t wait to be asked for help. A warm welcome upon moving in, an offer to help with childcare or yard work, or even a simple “Thank you for your service” can go a long way.
In cities across America there are nonprofit organizations that need your time, talent, and resources. Get involved in your local community to see where you can help. Our veterans have provided a service that goes without glory, without wealth, and too often without a word of thanks. It should be our privilege to give back.
Today while we are honoring our twenty three million living veterans from the Greatest Generation to the latest Generation, let us be reminded of the debt of which we could never repay. Let us strive to further honor and serve our veterans as they have served us. Let us remember their acts of courage and appreciate them. It is their service, their sacrifice, and their blood that have given us all our chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Today, on behalf of the State of North Carolina, I say to all veterans, thank you. We honor you as our nation’s heroes, and your sacrifice will not be forgotten.