Ten days from now, on March 20th, we will begin the fourth year of war in Iraq. For the vast majority of Americans, the day will be noted only by news stories and likely a predictable speech from the President. But for the more than one million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11th, the third anniversary of this war is more than just a symbolic opportunity for media attention.
In the three years that have passed since American Troops first stepped into Iraq, the political and social landscape has changed dramatically for the members of our military. Life for these men and women, and their families, will never be the same. Tens of thousands of Troops have suffered physical wounds, and countless thousands more will combat the psychological wounds of war for years to come. More than 2300 hundred American families have hollow places that can never be filled completely by the memory of their fallen heroes, no matter how proud those memories may be. For millions of American -- your neighbors -- life changes have happened every minute of every hour for the past three years.
For the structure of our modern military, the pace of change has been much slower. We have learned that pre-war intelligence should mean finding body armor as much as finding WMDs. There are Iraq War Veterans who will swear that the weapons were there, and those who will swear just the opposite. But they all agree that in the years leading up to this war, while the UN checked under the rug for WMDs, someone at the White House forgot to check that our Troops would go into battle with such basic necessities as body armor, translators, clean water, or even, just maybe, a plan to secure the peace.
And while there were many successes in Iraq, the war continued and the casualties increased, but the civilian CEO Vice President reassured viewers at home that the insurgency was "in its last throes". Then we began to hear stories that our Troops were coming home to three-month long waits for an appointment at the VA. And just months before the coffers were to run dry in 2005, the VA discovered a nearly $3-billion dollar hole in its budget, jeopardizing care for five-out-of-six new Veterans.
And a year later, while the President congratulates himself for a Veterans Affairs budget greater than that of his predecessor, he quietly rolls out a plan to start charging many of them an enrollment fee for care at the VA. This, less than two months after delivering a State of the Union address that reinforced his policy of continuous war, while not once mentioning the new generation of Veterans that his policies have created.
But here's the good news. While Washington has failed our Troops and Veterans, the public has stepped up to the plate. Over the past three years, we've reshaped the national conversation about this war, its consequences, and the nation's military policy. A couple years back I started telling people that they don't need to be Veterans to be part of the Veterans' movement. That is true now more than ever, and more than 50,000 civilians have realized it, signing on to be the grassroots support for organizations like IAVA. In the next 12 months we aim to make that number 50 million, and we hope you'll take part, because really supporting the Troops is about so much more than just putting a magnetic yellow ribbon on the bumper of your car. It means getting involved.