“We return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children.” (Iroquois Prayer)
This Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell is from 1945. The soldier, home from the war and celebrating Thanksgiving, tugs at my heartstrings. What is more amazing to me is the headline in the box, “What will Bradley do for the Veterans?” This refers to Gen. Omar Bradley, chosen by President Truman at the end of World War II to direct the Veterans Administration. The following excerpt is from Bradley’s biography found at the Arlington National Cemetary website.
“Somewhat unwillingly, Bradley accepted the job and began to modernize and restructure that antiquated organization to meet the challenges that it would soon face. Before the end of the war the VA was responsible for some 5 million veterans, with a few pensions still going to cases arising from the War of 1812. By 1946 almost 17 million veterans were on its rolls. Bradley completely rebuilt the organization on a regional basis and insisted on basing his decisions on he needs of the veteran, rather than on the political considerations that had so often governed in the past in such matters as the location of VA hospitals. With the help of Maj. Gen. Paul R. Hawley, Eisenhower’s theater surgeon, he completely overhauled a medical care system that Hawley had described as medieval. He also revised and extended the educational benefits of the G.I. Bill, arranged for jobs and job training programs for men whose only experience had been as members of the armed forces, established a program of loans for veterans, and administered a staggering growth in veterans insurance and disability pensions. Bradley was unable to accomplish everything he had hoped to do in his two-year tenure, but in the assessment of the press, he transformed “the medical service of the Veterans Administration from a national scandal to a model establishment.”
My father was one of those World War II veterans who was lovingly cared for by the VA. I have cousins who served in the Korean, Vietnam, and First Gulf wars. I am thankful for their service to our nation. So many of our military will not be home this Thanksgiving or will be spending all of their future Thanksgivings as disabled, needing the VA’s services.
A little known news story last week was the naming of Dr. James B. Peake as President Bush’s latest director of Veterans Affairs. Just as in 1945, we must ask the question, “What will Peake do for the Veterans?” Bradley’s transformation of the VA from “a national scandal to a model establishment” seems to have be reversed. Veterans’ inadequate health care, homelessness, suicide and trauma seem to be daily news stories. I urge you to follow the confirmation process of Dr. Peake. It is not without controversy. We owe it to our veterans.