As Veterans Day is upon us, we must remember that our country stands tall because of what veterans did and the values they stand for. Although many of our country’s giants were veterans, it’s important to remember that many of the veterans who pledged their lives for our freedom are quiet heroes, common folk that we know as neighbors and friends and family members.
In my time in the state senate, we’ve taken a number of steps on the state level as well, to make sure our veterans are recognized, appreciated, and get the help they deserve after the sacrifices they’ve made for our nation.
As many World War II veterans reached retirement age in the 1980s, cemeteries, nursing homes and related services became a priority. As our troops headed off to the Persian Gulf in the 1990s, we once again gave proper attention to those returning from battle as well as their families’ needs.
More recently, we’ve tried to expand the benefits earned by service members to also accommodate National Guardsmen who are called to active federal duty.
Kentucky now has three veterans nursing homes. For those who don’t need assisted living care, but do need help getting to the doctor, the state funds vans to help make trips to medical facilities easier.
Likewise, Kentucky has authorized four separate veterans cemeteries, with one in eastern Kentucky still waiting to be built. We’ve also established a program to provide a military burial to anyone who qualifies. Furthermore, we’ve made sure that funeral homes, when they receive a deceased veteran, understand the rights coming to that veteran so they receive that last distinguished mark of respect and admiration.
There’s no need to wait until they are dead or sick before we salute our veterans. They deserve our respect from the day they sign up for service. To help them get back on their feet and return to civilian life, we recently established a personal loan program for veterans, many of whom have no opportunity to establish good credit when they join the military so young. The loan could go toward a down payment on a house, college tuition, or even to help buy a business. We also have mortgage and rent assistance to the families of actively deployed Kentucky veterans, and on the tuition front, survivors and dependents of veterans killed in action have their tuition waived at state schools.
In addition, veterans have an alternative path toward teaching certificates. Their expertise, discipline, honor and respect is something we want in our classrooms, and we’re encouraging more veterans to take up teaching as a career choice.
Of course, you still need a high school diploma to teach in any Kentucky public school, and many veterans of past conflicts dropped out of high school to join the war effort. That’s why we passed a law directing local school boards to grant diplomas to honorably discharged veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They’re actual, authentic, valid diplomas — just the same as if the veteran had walked through commencement when they were 18.
Americans must never forget its veterans. We must never forget that our way of life has been provided by veterans willing to risk everything for our nation.
State Senator Ernie Harris