The Fourth of July is upon us and it is a day to celebrate our nation's Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776. This day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues and other grand celebrations that we Americans use to enjoy the peak of the summer.
On this Fourth of July, I ask that we also make a point to remember those men and women in uniform who are serving today to protect our independence, to protect our freedom.
More than 1.6 million soldiers have deployed to either fight or support our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These brave troops have worked courageously to complete every mission we ask them to, regardless of the continued failure in leadership shown by their civilian counterparts through mismanagement and lack of planning. Nearly 4,000 soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan, while many other soldiers are returning home with both physical and mental scars that will last their entire lives.
"If people understood that this is a war about catastrophically wounded young people, then maybe they'll appreciate what these kids really did for them and for their country," said Earl T. Hecker, a surgeon treating wounded soldiers. "Right now it's absolutely hidden. I don't think most people think about these kids at all. Out of sight, out of mind."
Nearly a quarter million veterans from these current wars have already been treated at Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country. This surge in patients is overwhelming Veterans Affairs and forcing some veterans to wait well over six months just to see a doctor.
Soldiers returning to their families suffering from the mental scars of war must get the help they need, because waiting six months will destroy not only their own well-being, but that of their families as well. These soldiers already have sacrificed a great deal for our independence and deserve better.
Veterans Affairs suffers from the same lack of planning and mismanagement that has cost our nation so dearly in Iraq. These men and women have been forgotten by the same Congress that sent them to war. Over the next few months I will unroll a plan to ensure that our troops get the support they need. I understand what they are going through, because I have stood in their boots.
So I ask you, on this Fourth of July, to take a minute from your celebration and say a prayer for our soldiers still under fire defending the same independence we proclaimed more than two centuries ago.
I also ask you to find a veteran marching in one of the thousands of parades across this land, thank that veteran for his service, and pledge that our great country will live up to the promise we made. Let's prove Hecker wrong and ensure that our veterans are no longer out of sight or out of mind.
Jonathan Powers is an Iraq veteran and candidate in next year's 26th Congressional District race.