To ask a citizen to give up his or her life, limb or good health in defense of a nation is to simultaneously enter into a sacred agreement with that citizen, as President Lincoln eloquently put it, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."
Yet, over the past decade the government agency through which we fulfill our sacred commitment to those who have "borne the battle," the Department of Veterans Affairs, has failed in many ways to follow through on that commitment on our behalf in a timely manner for far too many veterans.
By now it should be clear: The VA's miscalculations and letdowns over the past decade are not just a VA problem; they are the Department of Defense's problem, as well. Although the two may be administratively distinct, the fate of each is intimately tied into the other in a circle of recruitment, service and care, and the impact of what happens at each stage of that cycle on future recruitment.
If we cannot adequately and consistently "care for him who shall have borne the battle," then there shall be fewer and fewer who will be willing to bear the battle on our behalf.
Living up to this commitment is not only a moral obligation we have as a society, but it is also an imperative for the future readiness of our nation's armed forces. The all-volunteer nature of our military today means that we rely entirely on the willingness of mostly young men and women to offer themselves up in service for what is at best modest compensation to serve for extended periods of time in what are often harsh and dangerous conditions. No other employer could offer such a job description to potential recruits and not be laughed out of business.
But public service is a noble calling, and military service specifically elicits a willingness in many to set aside the trappings, pleasures and security of being a civilian in order to contribute to the effort to defend our borders and preserve our way of life.
Military service is always a potentially hazardous job, especially over the past decade as the wars to which we have committed ourselves have raged on. But the men and women who volunteer themselves for this job, and who put their lives and health at risk in the process, do not do so foolishly. Because of the explicit commitment we have made to care for them should they be injured -- or for their families should they be killed -- Americans by the thousands every month still volunteer to join the ranks of "the other one percent," the minuscule portion of our population that has fought in our nation's recent wars.