Put aside any ideological differences between Republican Congressman Bill Flores and his predecessor, Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards, and one common priority stands out: veterans. And so it goes with many in Congress — and for good reason: With the generations who fought World War II and Korea passing from our midst and Vietnam veterans aging fast, most of the succeeding generations lack familiarity with the sometimes grim realities of military duty.
In some ways, that makes at least some of us — safe and secure on the home front — quicker on the draw when one president or another, Democrat or Republican, begins rattling sabers and beating war drums. After all, chances are it won’t cost us much except possibly in higher taxes — and during the wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, even that wasn’t demanded of us. It should have been. All Americans should feel at least something of the sacrifice of those we sometimes carelessly put in harm’s way. Instead, we affixed bumper stickers testifying to our support of the troops and motored on our way.
No wonder so many in Congress, soon forced to confront sticky foreign policy questions, ultimately assume deeper obligations. Last month Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, joined Lubbock Republican Jodey Arrington in introducing the VALOR Act (HR 3949), which would provide military veterans increased access to apprenticeship-training programs. And there’s the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act (HR 918), which would provide critical mental-health services to former military personnel discharged under other-than-honorable conditions — not exactly flag-waving stuff, perhaps, but especially relevant in these dire times. Both bills have now passed the House.
All of us nonetheless owe our military and our veterans more than legislation providing them with enhanced health care and programs aiding in societal readjustment. We must ensure there are more veterans than battlefield casualties in any foreign intrigue. We want to honor them on Veterans Day — not on Memorial Day.
Today’s Veterans Day Parade downtown is evidence of at least some of what we mean. Beginning at 11 a.m., it may well be the largest mounted locally with nearly 4,000 participants and 180 units, including floats, school bands, drill teams and both veterans and active-duty military personnel. Its popularity testifies not only to the patriotic spirit prevalent in our parts but to the many connections residents have to our military heritage, either because they’re veterans and/or proud of lineage that includes sterling examples. But when the parade is over, far more should be expected of us as citizens, veterans or not. We must second-guess political leaders and study foreign policy details when anyone proposes putting our armed forces in harm’s way. Our leaders might be right, they might be wrong, but patriotism should not lead us to blindly accept what they say without scrutiny. Such scrutiny would mean fulfilling a critical citizen obligation — one that returns the favor to those willing to put their lives on the line for us.