The significance of Wednesday’s Veterans Day remains profound. Americans still fight and die abroad, and those who return bear the physical and emotional costs of their work. Truly honoring these Americans is at times obscured by stumping and jingoist pageantry, as well as misplaced protest. It is clarifying to recognize that at its essence, the day is about America’s proudest sacrifices, about its people—as well the weight of our most dreadful political errors, our worst scars. This season’s tug-of-war over health care shows, again, that Americans do not agree on details, nor did we ever. We cannot expect to. But there is a unifying idea behind Veterans Day: improving the quality of life for all Americans must inspire our actions.
Earlier this week, Governor Don Carcieri vetoed a bill that would have granted Rhode Island’s same-sex “domestic partners” the right to arrange each other’s funerals, a right currently reserved for heterosexual married couples. Made so close to Veterans Day, the denial of basic family rights to a group of this state’s citizens seems all the less patriotic. On the same day of Carcieri’s veto, the Harvard Medical School released a study that calculated that 2,266 veterans under 65 years of age died in 2008 because they did not have health insurance. The study reports that this figure is “more than 14 times the number of deaths (155) suffered by US troops in Afghanistan in 2008, and more than twice as many as have died (911)...since the war began in 2001.” That translates to an average of six deaths each day as a result of reduced access to health care.
To honor—and justify—veterans’ enormous contributions to each American’s wellbeing, our politics must be guided by improving each citizen’s quality of life. That quality of life hinges on two fundamental issues: the right to health and the right to family. These rights are not fundamental for a select few, but for all of us. —KSO