Commentary: Renewing our obligations to those who serve

This editorial appeared in The Fresno Bee.

Abraham Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address, as the Civil War wound down, with the words that have come to define the nation's obligations to its veterans:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

Caring for those who have "borne the battle" is a year-round, ongoing duty. We recall it, and celebrate the service of veterans today, on Veterans Day, but the obligation stretches out years from now. It's not just about today's veterans, but about those yet unborn who will wear the nation's uniform, fight its battles and defend its liberties.

We haven't always treated veterans as well as they deserved. The original GI Bill – officially the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 – was transformational for millions of World War II veterans and for the nation itself. They used its benefits to attend college and trade schools and to buy homes. In the process, they created a vastly larger American middle class.

Some form of GI Bill has been in place ever since, though the benefits have varied over the decades. A new GI Bill, affecting veterans in the post-9/11 period, will take effect in August of 2009, and offer expanded education benefits. It's an improvement over the current program, which pays a flat sum over four years, and isn't enough to finance a bachelor's degree at many colleges.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Fresno Bee.

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