Throughout our history, Americans have embraced and aspired to live up to our great national declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Since 1776, Americans have been called on to safeguard these principles through their service in uniform. Each year, Veterans Day is set aside for us to pause and reflect, to recall and to recognize, and to honor and celebrate the service and sacrifices of those who, for 237 years, have shouldered the immense responsibility of defending our freedom. Through these annual observances, we also rededicate ourselves to fulfilling President Abraham Lincoln’s charge to all Americans to care for those “who shall have borne the battle” and for their families.
Today, less than one percent of our population bears the responsibility of our national defense, and just over seven percent of all Americans living today have worn our Nation’s uniforms. Our Department is dedicated to serving Veterans of every generation with commitment, respect, and advocacy equal to their service and sacrifice. This is our noble mission, and we consider it a sacred duty.
As we mend bodies and spirits, deliver life-enhancing and life-saving benefits, and provide honored final resting places, let us take pride in our Nation’s willingness to fulfill its obligations for services already rendered, down payments already made, and wellness already sacrificed by Veterans to whom we owe so much. They should never be made to feel that their service is not appreciated or that our memory of the costs they have borne is fleeting.
Our gratitude should not be expressed only one day a year, but stand as an abiding commitment—every day of the year. In that way, Veterans, their families, and our survivors will never have to question the readiness of this large and powerful country to meet their need to live productive lives with respect and dignity.
There will never be enough we can do for those who have given so much personal treasure for the rest of us. And having them worry that their safety and security is something negotiable denies them the respect and dignity they earned. We must do this right and well for those future generations of Americans, who deserve to have their Constitution protected and their freedoms preserved.
On this Veterans Day 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs honors the service and sacrifice of the men and women, who serve today at duty stations around the globe, and who have served in years past with the same unwavering commitment to protect all that we hold dear. On behalf of the American people, it is our privilege—today and every day—to help the Nation demonstrate its debt of gratitude to those who have so willingly fulfilled citizenship’s highest calling.
Eric K. Shinseki