The Ripon Forum

Volume 42, No. 2

April - May 2008 Issue

Service and Sacrifice: What We Honor on Memorial Day

By on November 23, 2015


Memorial Day is a time to think about the meaning of sacrifice. It is something near and dear to the hearts of all Americans. We wouldn’t be here without it. We understand that with liberty comes responsibility, and that entails sacrifice.

Second Lieutenant Bob Dole

No matter what we do, each of us at some point in our lives must ask ourselves what is meaningful. Undoubtedly we find meaning in service to others. We come to recognize the basic values that endure: duty, honor, country; honesty, integrity, personal responsibility.

You don’t need a uniform to serve or sacrifice, but we depend upon the willingness of those who defend liberty. We are grateful to the men and women in or out of uniform who make sacrifices and volunteer to serve others.

Four years ago on Memorial Day weekend, we witnessed the Dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, DC and with it the largest reunion of citizen soldiers ever. We commemorated, and celebrated, liberty and the many sacrifices by 16.5 million service men and women which kept us free.

Over the past year I have greeted thousands of World War II heroes at the World War II Memorial. Thanks to two men who had an idea, a program called “Honor Flight” brings thousands of World War II veterans – free of charge — to see the WWII and other war memorials in Washington, DC.

It is with that in mind that I approach the coming holiday. As someone who has spent a good portion of my life working with veterans — in many cases, with veterans my age — I am reminded of the brave Americans who now continue to renew our commitment to freedom and democracy all around the world.

The best way to honor these men and women is to show your support. When you meet a veteran say hello and then the five magic words, “thank you for your service.”

Last year, the country was shocked by the unacceptable treatment of some of our returning injured and wounded from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The last thing our injured service members and their families need are unnecessary barriers and unjustifiable burdens standing between them and the care and services they deserve.

So, when President Bush asked Donna Shalala and me to identify problems and find solutions, we accepted the challenge. As Co-Chairs of the nine-member “President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors” our objective was clear – to make sure our returning wounded service members receive the right care and services at the right time and in the right place.

We found that advances in battlefield medicine and technology are nothing short of remarkable. And for many, the care is excellent and recovery is swift. Unfortunately, there are those who are faced with the unacceptable experience of being lost in the bureaucratic maze of a fragmented health care and benefits delivery systems. For those with complex injuries needing extensive services, system failures lead to unacceptable hardships.

As we approach Memorial Day, we remind ourselves that there are times when duty will require sacrifice.

Our site visits, hearings, research and survey identified problems that occurred repeatedly : lack of coordination of care and services; lost or unavailable medical or service records; unprepared, dislocated, and overly burdened families; communication failures both within and between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs; complicated and redundant policies and procedures; confusion and distrust of the disability determination processes; and outdated standards for disability determination and compensation.

In our report, we worked to fix these problems with workable, actionable solutions. We called for: 1) explicit patient care and recovery plans, implemented by recovery coordinators 2) access to post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis and treatment for all those who are sent into combat, along with enhanced care for both post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, provided by adequate numbers of health care professionals, 3) expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act, in addition to aid and attendant care, and respite care for families caring for their injured and recovering service member, 4) better use of information technology to support services and care, 5) high level maintenance of Walter Reed Medical Center facilities and workforce until it closes, and 6) modernization of the disability determination and compensation, along with increased financial incentives for completion of vocational rehabilitation and educational programs. These six pragmatic recommendations are broken down into 34 actionable steps – 28 require administrative action and 6 require new legislation.

The recommendations were widely hailed as thoughtful and reasonable solutions to improving care for our wounded warriors. We are pleased that many of them are being implemented today.

Recovery coordinators have been hired. Information sharing between the DoD and VA has significantly improved. An interactive information portal to provide service members and veterans with information tailored for their individual needs is in the works. Walter Reed is reportedly receiving the full support it needs. Screening and treatment protocols for traumatic brain injury are being developed. Additional mental health providers are being hired by both departments. DoD has put added emphasis on educational and support programs for families. And progress is being made to pilot a single physical exam, crafted by both the DoD and the VA, that might become the basis for a more uniform and objective disability determination process in the future.

The White House and Congress are both working on the legislative components. A bipartisan effort was successful in amending and expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act. The large challenge ahead involves disability reform. We recognize that fixing the dysfunctional disability determination and compensation system is an enormous challenge, primarily because it requires cooperation, consensus, and concessions from many vested interests comfortable with the status quo. The fact is that the current schedule used to rate disabilities needs updating to more consistently determine how an injured service members is compensated for loss of “quality of life.” A study is being conducted to examine the quality of life payment issue and fundamental reform will have to wait until it is completed.

While there is indeed progress, much more needs to be done. Our new Veterans Affairs Secretary, James Peake, is working to ensure that the $87 billion budgeted for the VA will be spent to maximize the health and well being of veterans.

As we approach Memorial Day, we remind ourselves that there are times when duty will require sacrifice. Thankfully there is no shortage of sacrifice and commitment coming from this younger generation of leaders, individuals whose courage is matched by their hard work, commitment and integrity. I encounter those kinds of men and women almost every day who serve our country in different ways.

I know I speak for many Americans when I say, as we remember all of our past veterans this Memorial Day, that we are a grateful nation and that we pray for the families of those serving today. I am optimistic and confident this country will not falter as long as we have people like them willing to serve and sacrifice for others to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Mr. Dole is the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader from Kansas and 1996 Republican nominee for president. He was a platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division during WWII and Chairman of the National World War II Memorial in Washington. He is currently special counsel to Alston & Bird LLP.

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