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Veterans deserve the best from us

As American combat troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, the nation's pledge to warriors and their families does not diminish. If anything, the responsibility the nation has to its fighting men and women and their families becomes greater. Indeed, given the nature of 21st century military service and the nation's dependence on the all-volunteer armed services, the nation's debt to those who don the uniform has never been greater.

Yet, the nation is not measuring up. While we honored veterans Friday on Veterans Day, there remained troubling indications that the resources to address the unique needs of military personnel returning from war zones are falling short. A nation stressed by recession and an unprecedented budget squeeze is shorting its obligations to the men and women who protect and preserve our freedom. That is not acceptable, even in times of an economic turndown.

Much of the story of veterans being denied services is anecdotal. But the overall picture, while not bleak, is not as bright as it should be. Today's veterans return from wars with physical injuries that would have been fatal in previous conflicts. Therefore, the demand for specialized health care is greater.

Psychological damages that might have been written off in previous wars comprise a significant component of veterans' problems when they come home. Often mental problems cannot be separated from physical injuries. The inability of some veterans to adjust to civilian life generates a raft of family disruption and other social consequences that frequently must be treated holistically. By some accounts, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies have been slow to acknowledge the depth and extent of problems afflicting today's veterans and their families.

Honoring veterans is more than a bumper sticker or a welcome-home celebration at an airport. It's more than praising members of the uniformed military as the best and brightest. It's about an ongoing national, state and local responsibility to have in place accessible services to veterans most in need. Those needs cover a gamut that is different -- more complicated -- than it has ever been. The best thing Americans can do on Veterans Day is renew that commitment, and guarantee that no veteran who needs and seeks help of any kind is denied.