By Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) - 05/22/14 06:00 AM EDT
This year, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, the great turning point in the Allies’ campaign to drive Hitler’s armies back into Germany.
On June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 troops headed across the English Channel. They jumped from planes, into fields, climbed cliffs and charged up beaches under long odds and withering fire; they fought, as President Roosevelt said, not for conquest but “to end conquest.” They knew that many of them would not live to see the end of the war; still, they pushed forward.
Seven decades later, we are still humbled and awed by the audacity of the Greatest Generation. Yet every day, we are inspired by the valor of each generation of veterans.
And as we approach Memorial Day, it is our duty not only to remember those who gave their last full measure of devotion on the battlefield but also to honor the living who came home. It is our obligation to keep our promises to all who wear the uniform and to their families.
The Congress of World War II set a high standard for how we must uphold that promise — and its actions produced stunning results.
When the war ended, millions of American servicemen were able to use the benefits of the GI Bill to go to school, open a new business and start families. By 1952, the GI Bill had enabled the Veterans Administration to back almost 2.4 million home loans. When the law finally expired in 1956, nearly half of the 16 million World War II veterans had participated in its education and training programs.
The impact of the first GI Bill has rippled through our society ever since — in the prosperity it shaped, in the middle class it built and in the example it set for caring for veterans in war and peace. Indeed, our nation’s commitment to our veterans’ reintegration to civilian life helped usher in one of the greatest economic expansions in our history.
With every generation of Americans that has put on the uniform comes a renewed responsibility to meet the standard set by the original GI Bill. In our time, in the age of the 9/11 Generation, that moral duty drove Democrats to expand our nation’s commitment to veterans’ healthcare, education and economic opportunities.
Under the Democratic-led Congress from 2007-2011, we increased funding for veterans’ healthcare by 70 percent, providing nearly 18,000 new doctors and nurses, adding 92 new Vet Centers and opening 145 community-based veterans outpatient clinics, improving the quality and availability of care for urban and rural veterans nationwide.
We strengthened mental health services to address the signature wounds of the post-9/11 wars, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. We enacted landmark legislation for wounded veterans, providing critical assistance to family members and more than 1.1 million post-9/11 caretakers, because we know that military families’ service does not cease when the battles end.
We passed the GI Bill for the 21st Century, which has sent more than 700,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to college and extended college benefits to all children of fallen troops since 9/11. We ensured that our veterans would have access to job training and encouraged the hiring of unemployed veterans with a $2,400 tax credit — because no soldier who fights for our country abroad should be forced to fight for a job at home.
Challenges remain, and there is still more to be done. As we wind down more than a decade at war, we know there is a long road of healing and recovery ahead for the men and women re-entering civilian life with seen and unseen scars of war.
In everything that we do, we must hold ourselves to a basic pledge: Just as the military leaves no one behind on the battlefield, we must leave no veteran behind when they come home.
This Memorial Day, 70 years after storming the beaches of Normandy and 70 years after the first GI Bill, let us renew our commitment to that call. Let us honor the dead with our commitment to freedom. Let us serve our veterans as well as they have served us.
Pelosi has represented northern California congressional districts since 1987. A former Speaker, she is the House Democratic Leader.