By far, the most inspirational point of the State of the Union speech came when President Barack Obama told the story of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg. We hope the president follows his powerful words with important deeds.
Grievously wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2009 during his 10th deployment, Remsburg spent three months in a coma and endured numerous surgeries and grueling rehabilitation. Now 30 and living near Phoenix, he is partially paralyzed and blind in one eye. The president used Remsburg as a heroic example of the resilience that is in Americas character; a resilience we all must show. When Obama introduced the sergeant, seated in the gallery next to first lady Michelle Obama, members of Congress responded with their longest standing ovation. Some had tears in their eyes.
But for this heart-tugging moment to have real meaning, the president and Congress must do better by all those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Too many of those who have returned home 40,000 a year to California dont have work. Some are homeless. Many are still waiting for benefits or have to fight for them in hearings.
While there has been progress, there is more to do. And just as the president said he wouldnt wait for Congress to strengthen the middle class and expand opportunities for the poor, he shouldnt wait to help veterans. First, follow through on the vow to slash the backlog of disability claims so that the new generation of veterans and their families receive the benefits and medical care they deserve. As of Saturday, there were still 400,000 backed-up claims, though that was down by about 210,000 from the high point last March, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The president must help veterans translate their skills into jobs at home. In December, the unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans was 7.3 percent down from 10.8 percent a year earlier but still higher than the nonveteran rate of 6.4 percent. In his speech, Obama bragged that an initiative led by his wife and Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, has encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses, helped by tax credits approved by Congress in November 2011. We need more such efforts.
Its easy to stand up for veterans on the campaign trail or in a State of the Union speech. The real test is whether lawmakers do so when they face tough choices and theres real money at stake.
If Congress wants to stand for something, it should stand up for our veterans and do all it can to help not hinder this effort.