Those who answered the nation's call must not be forgotten

Monday, November 10, 2008

Despite having less support among veterans than his opponent, President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to support U.S. veterans, citing the service of his grandfather in Patton's army and his grandmother's work in a bomber factory in World War II.

If Obama is successful in getting us out of Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden and bringing our service people home -- without planting the seeds of a worse future conflict, he will have accomplished much on behalf of those who serve our country, as well as those who won't have to.

But Obama's and future administrations will be dealing with how to make sure U.S. veterans receive the support they deserve.

World War II veterans are rapidly passing away, but still account for 2.9 million of the 23.6 million military veterans in the United States last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of those, 9.3 million are 65 and older, and 1.9 million are younger than 35.

As United States' longest war, Vietnam accounted for 7.9 million veterans in 2007, a third of the total of all living veterans, and 5 million served in the Gulf War, which is designated as Aug. 2, 1990 to the present. Three million served in the Korean War and 6.1 million served in peacetime.

While the average veteran earns $36,053 a year, some 5.7 percent lived in poverty last year, and 6 million have a disability.

Some 2.7 million received compensation for service-connected disabilities in 2006, paid a total of $28.2 billion. In all, $72.8 billion was spent for federal benefits for veterans in 2006, including $34.6 billion in compensation and pensions, $33,7 billion for medical programs and the remainder to other programs such as vocational rehabilitation and education.

These are dry statistics to discuss as the new administration begins to deal with the myriad challenges it will fact in its first weeks and months in office. Balancing campaign promises against fiscal responsible will be the true test of the new powers-that-be in Washington.

As America celebrates Veterans Day on Tuesday, however, we must not lose site of the personal sacrifice of those who answered the call of service to their country when it needed them most.

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