11/11/2007 04:10 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Honoring the Price of Freedom

The way wars are fought has evolved greatly over the last 50 years, but in that time our Veterans Administration has changed very little. Thanks to courageous medics, improved armor, and groundbreaking battlefield medical treatment, a much greater percentage of our soldiers are surviving than ever before. Our current system was designed to deal with veterans of last century's wars and is ill-equipped to treat the thousands of soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan with life-altering injuries which would have been fatal in previous conflicts.

As someone who served in Iraq, I know first-hand the steep price that our soldiers are paying to safeguard America's freedom. Not everyone with whom I served was lucky enough to make it home and it angers and saddens me on Veterans Day to see that those who did are not receiving the care that they need.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonpartisan not-for-profit group, estimates that on any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless. There is currently a disturbing trend upward in this number and many of our soldiers from the current fight are ending up homeless; reduced to desperately searching soup kitchens and shelters for the care they need. The suicide rate among our returning troops has grown immensely. In Western New York alone, at least four veterans have taken their own lives.

These soldiers are returning home with physical and mental injuries sustained while fighting for our country. They are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives. I recently had the pleasure of touring several local veterans' facilities, and was amazed by the commitment and level of care provided by the doctors and nurses I met. There are simply not enough of them however to serve all of the veterans that need their help. The workers at our Veteran's Administration are trying to help, but must struggle to overcome bureaucratic red-tape and Washington D.C. partisan politics.

Americans can, and should, be having an honest debate about what's happening in Iraq, but must remember to separate their feelings on the war from the warriors. Soldiers do not dictate policy, politicians do. As citizens, it's up to us to elect leadership that will be proactive to the needs of our soldiers, properly plan and prepare before sending them into harms way. It's also our responsibility to ensure that they have access to the long-term mental and physical treatment they require when they return home.

Today on Veterans Day, I'm asking everyone to join me in a pledge to tell your representatives that only when our veterans have accessible and quality health care will their service be honored. Our soldiers fight bravely for this country and it's up to us, through our vote and through our words, to fight for them by holding our elected officials accountable for reforming the Veterans Administration.


Our current system is failing our veterans, and until we begin holding our elected officials responsible for ensuring that our veterans have access to quality health care, so are we.

Jon Powers

Iraq veteran