Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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As a young boy in the 1960s, I learned to ride horses on the Hancock farm in rural New Jersey. Our family's friendship with the Hancocks resulted in my first meaningful exposure to the Vietnam War when their youngest son, John, was drafted.
My awakening to the reality of war through John's service - reinforced a few years later when I learned about the sacrifices my grandfather and father made during World Wars I and II - cemented my conviction that we owe all who serve in the military a never-ending debt.
During the 40 years since John's 1969 departure for Vietnam, I've often been reminded of the military sacrifices millions of Americans have made during the history of this great country. It's a sacrifice I never made.
The first reminder was when the draft ended in 1973 during my freshman year of high school. Although fighting in Vietnam continued for another two years, it seemed probable I would not go to war like John and so many other young men in my hometown.
The next two reminders came within months of each other in 1975 during my junior year. That April, U.S. involvement in Vietnam ended and with it any possibility of my serving in a war that took more than 50,000 American lives. In July, my father succumbed to cancer, and I opened his war album for the first time.
I sat in awe looking through the pictures, letters and service records and wondered why my father, like most of his generation, never spoke about his experiences during the Second World War. And while I knew Grandpa Douglas had lived life with a metal plate in his head - courtesy of battle wounds suffered during World War I - for the first time I read letters he wrote while serving as a doughboy in 1918 on the frontline in France.
Although those experiences were the most personal, they were not the last reminders of the sacrifices those serving in uniform make. From attending the Desert Storm Victory Parade in Washington, D.C., in 1991 to hosting a nightly radio show covering the start of the Iraq War in 2003, I've often reflected on the valor of those who serve and how we as citizens must provide for them in any way we can.
Earlier this week, I again had reason to think about what we owe our servicemen and women.
On Monday, President Barack Obama met with representatives of veterans organizations at the White House. According to CNN, Obama told the veterans he was "considering a proposal to have treatment for service-connected injuries charged to veterans' private insurance plans" instead of covering veterans' medical expenses with taxpayer funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The president wanted the change in order to save $540 million.
But by forcing veterans to rely on their private insurance for injuries sustained during service to our country, the president would place our veterans and their families at substantial risk.
As CNN recounted, "The (veterans) groups say that the cost of treating service-connected injuries could lead to veterans quickly maxing out their benefits in third-party insurance, risking coverage for not just them but their families, who also are covered under the plans. In addition, they foresee premiums increasing to cover the cost of treating the service-connected injuries." There also is concern that employers will not hire veterans for fear of increased cost for employer provided insurance.
The most important concern is the shirking of our national obligation to care for our wounded veterans. As Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, reminded the president, the "VA's sacred duty is to care for veterans injured in honorable service to our nation, and the department should not turn to wounded warriors' private insurance to pay for combat injures."
Fortunately, the outrage sparked by the president's plan was shared by every right-thinking American and our elected representatives in Washington. The president performed a quick about-face Wednesday and retreated from his ill-conceived plan.
We all should be thankful for the president's decision to continue the tradition of paying for the health care of our veterans wounded in combat. The maintenance of that obligation serves to honor the sacrifices of all the men and women who've given of themselves for this country - just as John Hancock did.
John was killed in action Dec. 8, 1969.
To reach Rob Douglas, e-mail Rob.Douglas@Comcast.net