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EDITORIAL: Saying thank you isn't enough

Honor veterans this week by voting for candidates who support expanded VA healthcare

This week, Central Michigan Life will put our editorial spotlight on America’s future in two distinct ways.

On Tuesday, students, faculty and staff at Central Michigan University will vote for the next President of the United States.

On Friday, we’ll honor the men and women who served or are currently serving in America’s military.

It seems fitting that two days representing a deep sense of national duty should fall on the same week. We vote on Election Day for a candidate for president who we believe will defend our inalienable rights as American citizens. On Veterans Day, we support the soldiers who defend those freedoms with their lives.

As a nation, we’ll all say a collective “thank you” to our veterans. We’ll stop a person in uniform to give them a handshake or a hug. We’ll wave flags and post on our social media accounts, all in the spirit of appreciation.

We join that chorus of gratitude. To us, saying thank you isn’t enough for the men and women who put their lives, identities and mental health on the line in the defense of all we hold dear.

If you care about veterans in your local community, donate money to relief organizations. Volunteer at your local VA hospital. Most importantly, vote on Nov. 8 for candidates that will help expand access to veterans’ resources like medical and mental health care.

After years of protecting our homeland from threats both foreign and domestic, it’s time for us to fight for soldiers and expand their access to care when they return home.

There were 21 million veterans living in American as of 2015, according to a RAND Corporation study conducted with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. At least 11 percent of those veterans were homeless and without access to health care.

That’s nearly 50,000 veterans in total. Another 20 percent of those veterans from recent wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The number of vets suffering with mental illness and suicide increases if you include issues like depression or traumatic brain injuries.

VA data shows that Congress spent $167 million on resources for veterans in 2015, including $75 million for pensions and compensation. Only a fraction of that money was allocated to rehabilitation and mental health care — $13 million, to be exact.

Those statistics are alarming.

We must dedicate more taxpayer resources for veterans health care. That starts with voting for lawmakers who will put veterans spending at the forefront of their policy agendas.

The 2016 election may go down as one of the most historic and contentious campaign cycle. With issues like immigration policy, legislative gridlock and rampant racial inequality riding on the line, it’s easy for politicians to put the needs of veterans on the back burner.

We owe it to our American service men and women to weigh veterans issues and which candidates are most dedicated veterans’ health care when casting a ballot.