The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs calculates the number of U.S military service members who served during wartime at 41.9 million. The department breaks that number down by:
- American Revolution: 217,000
- War of 1812: 286,730
- Indian Wars: 106,000
- Mexican War: 78,718
- Civil War: Union, 2.2 million; Confederate, 1.05 million
- Spanish-American War: 306,760
- World War I: 4.7 million
- World War II: 16.1 million
- Korean War: 5.7 million
- Vietnam War: 8.7 million
- Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 2.3 million
- The Global War on Terror: ongoing
Sunday, responsible citizens will give a special thanks to veterans for signing up to protect our liberty and security. For Sunday is Veterans Day, a holiday President Eisenhower designated in 1954 as Nov. 11.
Prior to Eisenhower’s designation, the day was observed as Armistice Day in recognition of the end of World War I at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918 — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
One Georgian who deserves special recognition for the work he’s done to improve the lives of veterans is U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia.
Isakson has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. While many consider the committee a second-tier assignment, Isakson asked to serve on it, “because I wanted to feel like I was paying my debt back to our veterans,” despite being a veteran himself.
In 2014, Sen. Bernie Sanders was chairman of the committee and Eric Shinseki was the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA came under a cloud with the reports of veterans dying while awaiting care at the VA medical facilities in Phoenix, Arizona, that year. The next year, in 2015, Isakson became chairman of the committee. He made a commitment that during his chairmanship, the committee would do everything possible to ensure the necessary laws and leadership were in place so that veterans had access to the benefits and services they are owed.
“And I’m proud to say that we’ve passed 22 changes in the law for veterans, we’ve confirmed 14 new positions in the VA, we’ve got a new secretary who is terrific and a military man himself and a career Department of Defense guy,” Isakson said. “We’ve done everything we needed to do to give them the tools to correct the problems ahead and to make the VA work for the veteran and work for the country.”
Now that the needed laws and people are in place, Georgia’s senior senator expects results, vowing to hold the VA accountable so that it works for the veterans rather than against them. Isakson gives the VA a B grade now, on its way to a B plus.
In June, President Donald Trump signed into law Isakson’s VA MISSION Act, landmark legislation to improve the way the VA delivers health care by streamlining the department’s community care programs to remove obstacles to care in the community and ensure veterans receive efficient, timely and quality care.
Last year, after passage by the Senate, the president signed into law the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to improve accountability at the VA and discipline employees found guilty of misconduct to ensure veterans’ care was not affected by bad actors at the department.
To help service members transition to civilian life and ensure they have education benefits that meet their needs, another bill signed into law last year was the Veterans Educational Assistance Act to make lasting reforms to the post-9/11 G.I. Bill, including removing an arbitrary 15-year expiration of the benefit.
With the passage of the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, Isakson said in a recent floor speech that “we’re cutting down the average wait time because you shouldn’t have to wait to have a benefit paid.”
The legislation modernizes the woefully outdated benefits claims appeals process at the VA.
Looking ahead, Isakson is also excited about the committee’s oversight of the ongoing integration of health records between the VA and the Department of Defense by health information technology company Cerner.
“I am proud of what the Senate has done, and I am proud of our military and our country,” Isakson said. “We’ve done a lot of other things to help our veterans and to help our country. I commit that we will continue to do so. May God bless the United States of America.”
Isakson deserves applause for his leadership in reforming the VA so that our veterans are treated with the respect they deserve. For these are the men and women who signed up to make sure our nation remains a free one, and it is a debt, as President Truman observed, that “can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude.”
On this Veterans Day, to quote another president, Abraham Lincoln, “Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as best he can, the same cause.”