All Veterans Day celebrations are special, but this year’s recognition is especially important because it marks a centennial: the original “Armistice Day” occurred on Nov. 11, 1919, exactly one year after World War I concluded with the Armistice of Compiègne, signed by French Gen. Ferdinand Foch at 11 a.m. (Paris time) on Nov. 11, 1918.
Annual observances began with a 1926 congressional resolution, followed by the national holiday in 1938. While many of our national holidays have evolved into secular shopping sprees, Veterans Day continues to be celebrated in cities and towns, big and small, across the country: it’s an occasion for all Americans to reflect on and give appreciation for the contributions and sacrifices of the men and women whose military service has kept us safe and free.
America’s post-Vietnam wars have differed from earlier World Wars. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Americans could follow the Vietnam War every night on three network news channels. A military draft existed but was replaced by an all-volunteer military. Our post-Vietnam wars have witnessed a different, more detached level of national engagement. Today, our battles in the Middle East and elsewhere somehow seem distant to many Americans and their daily lives. Afghanistan has been our nation’s longest war (at 19 years and counting), yet how many of our citizens realize this fact? How many of them can locate Afghanistan on a map?
Our recent military engagements have seen fewer military members killed, but more members are returning home to live with serious psychological and physical injuries, many of which will last throughout their lives, well beyond their years of military service. The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have resulted in nearly 119,000 service members with post-traumatic stress disorder, over 7,000 members with severe brain injuries, and close to 1,600 members needing amputations, many the result of accidents involving hidden Improvised Explosive Devices.
While our military hospitals and the Veterans Administration handle the critical, time-sensitive medical needs of our wounded veterans, many veterans will experience subsequent quality-of-life requirements that go beyond what government provides. In some instances, these needs are recreational; in others, they require unique solutions to meet everyday challenges like opening pill bottles or traversing rough terrain on artificial legs.
Earlier this fall, I began working at a unique veterans organization called Quality of Life Plus (QL+) that was launched in 2009. Its founder, Jon Monett, is an Air Force veteran and former senior CIA official. Monett was inspired to launch QL+ after seeing “Fighting for Life,” a documentary about dedicated military medical personnel and their challenges during war.
To give back to America, Monett established QL+ with its direct-services approach that matches engineering students at major colleges with wounded veterans needing special engineering solutions to address their life-altering injuries.
QL+ gives disabled individuals greater independence and access to everyday activities. The engineering focus also helps develop an experienced Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics workforce that benefits students and prospective employers. And finally, these activities foster respect and appreciation for the men and women who serve and protect our nation.
Today, QL+ has 19 university partners and has engaged over 600 STEM students in devising projects designed to help over 1,000 veterans. This is a win-win-win-win effort for our veterans, our students, our workforce, and our nation.
In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville noted the remarkable American propensity to form associations to assist those in need. He considered these associations essential to human flourishing. Even earlier, in 1790, Edmund Burke wrote about the “little platoons” (in his day, mostly family, church, and community) that provided the “first principle … of public affections” that bring people closer to each other.
Today, there are many veterans’ organizations across the country. Some are big; others are small, like Burke’s “little platoons.” All of them are dedicated to serving the men and women who have served our country.
Iraq and Afghanistan are worlds away, but for the men and women who have fought and been injured there and elsewhere, the memories and the wounds last forever. Too many service members do not return home. For those who do, all of us have a duty to honor them and their service however we can. They have enhanced our quality of life; now it’s up to us to enhance theirs.
Americans helping Americans: that’s the tradition we celebrate today. Along with the selfless dedication of our veterans and service members, this tradition should make every American proud.
Charles Kolb was deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy in the George H.W. Bush White House from 1990-1992. From 1997-2012, he was president of the nonpartisan, business-led think tank, the Committee for Economic Development.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.