On Memorial Day, I spoke about the dual obligation we have to our veterans: provide the health care and services they have earned, and give them the opportunity to continue to serve. Read the full text below:
Good morning, and thank you all for being here on this day of remembrance.
Every generation has its war, and I served in Iraq. I believe the Iraq War was a mistake. But, as a Marine, I knew that I never wanted someone else to go in my place. So I was proud to serve, and proud to return for each subsequent deployment. I don’t know any veteran who would act differently.
We were dedicated to our mission: to rebuild a shattered country, to save lives, both American and Iraqi alike, and to make the most of a misbegotten war. I served with some of the best Americans I will ever meet, and I feel lucky to be one of the ones who came home. The 4,410 who did not come home, didn’t volunteer to die, but they did volunteer to go, and living in a democracy as we do, any one of us here today could be on one of those killed-in-action lists, in times past, present, or future, if not for such brave volunteers.
My favorite quote, which helped inspire me to volunteer when I read it every Sunday on the walls of my college church, reads: “While a bright future beckoned, they freely gave their lives and fondest hopes for us and our allies that we might learn from them courage in peace to spend our lives making a better world for others.” Too often, we remember the first part—honoring those who gave their lives—without dedicating ourselves to the obligation that comes with it: finding the courage in our own lives to make a better world for others.
Our veterans remain willing and able to continue to make a better world for others. A great example is James Hassell from my second platoon. He saved the life of Ryan Borgstrom, from Vermont, after Ryan was hit by a grenade in Najaf. James carried Ryan on his back, out of a building and through machine gun fire to safety. He was a hero, but that wasn’t enough. Like many of us, James wanted to continue serving after he got out, so he went to nursing school and got a good job where he could save lives back here at home.
Now while James had a good job, he still suffered from post-traumatic stress—a completely treatable condition if simply given the proper care. But when James went to the VA, they didn’t have the counseling resources he needed; they just gave him medication—too much medication, and at the age of 30, James Hassel died of a heart attack. The man he saved, Ryan, is still waiting for the knee replacement he needs to recover from the injuries he sustained that day. That isn’t honoring their service. We can do better.
The travesty of care at the VA—which demands not just another investigation by Congress, but serious action and accountability—is not just failing to meet a basic expectation that we care for those who “have bourne the battle”, but a tremendous lost opportunity, for veterans, like James, to continue serving and making America a better place.
Veterans are not victims. But we as a nation need to set our veterans up for success, and we will all be better off if we do. Veterans return with unparalleled leadership experience, tremendous discipline, and unrivaled commitment to service. It’s why veterans are disproportionately CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.
Our job as American citizens is twofold: first, take care of our veterans, and second, recognize the opportunity this new generation of veterans offers to help get our country back on track.
Let’s start by demanding that Congress fix care for our veterans—because that is a basic expectation. And then we should continue by offering veterans a job, helping them pay for college, and giving them a chance to prove themselves—and put those unique leadership experiences to work for us back here—that will benefit us all. Please keep this in mind the next time a veteran asks you for a chance.
Some have referred to my generation, because of our inclination toward public service, as the next “Greatest Generation.” But I think that is premature. The Greatest Generation did not receive that accolade in 1946. They earned it in the 1990s, as much for what they did after the war as what they did in it.
If 50 years from now, this new generation of Americans—my generation—is truly called “the next greatest generation,” it won’t be just because of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan; it will because all of us recognized what service veterans have to offer, and gave us a fighting chance. We all have a stake in that opportunity. Let’s seize it together.
Read more about my veterans policy here.