News & Opinion
Ranking Member Roe in The Ripon Forum: "Be Grateful for the Many Sacrifices that Keep Us Free"
This week, Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, penned an essay in The Ripon Forum in honor of Veterans Day.
Read the article here and below:
Be Grateful for the Many Sacrifices that Keep Us Free
The Ripon Forum
Every year on November 11th, Americans pay tribute to the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. While Veterans Day was deemed a national day of remembrance by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, it was not always widely acknowledged and celebrated, and neither were veterans.
I was drafted into the 2nd Infantry Division’s Army Medical Corps in 1971 and spent two years stationed in South Korea, near the Korean Demilitarized Zone. When I was preparing to come home in 1974, I was warned not to wear my uniform on the plane because it wouldn’t be well-received when I landed back in the country whose name I had proudly worn. Many who served then were ‘welcomed’ home by protests and backlash. Our service, and the sacrifices that that service necessitated, had seemingly gone unnoticed and unappreciated.
I don’t remember my first Veterans Day after leaving the Army but, as a physician-in-training at the time, I imagine that I spent it on call at the hospital. I don’t remember many Veterans Days after that either when I was consumed by the everyday concerns of raising a family and building a career. Coaching my son’s soccer team, attending my daughter’s dance recitals, and starting my medical practice didn’t leave much time for reflection on my service or on anyone else’s. It is only with age that I have come to realize and truly understand the significance of the sacrifices that veterans made, which allowed me the freedom to go to those soccer matches and dance recitals and spend three decades in medicine. A veteran left their blood in some foreign country so that I, and every American, could live freely and even unwittingly take our freedoms for granted. The saying “freedom isn’t free” is cliché but true; veterans paid a high price for it and we all reap the reward for their efforts.
“It is only with age that I have come to realize and truly understand the significance of the sacrifices that veterans made.”
The debt that we owe in return is one we will never be able to repay, though the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs strives to every day. I have served on the Committee since coming to Congress in 2009 and was honored to be selected by my fellow Republicans to serve as Chairman in 2017 and Ranking Member in 2019. There is nothing I take more seriously than the privilege of serving veterans through our work on the Committee, and I have great pride in what we have done to address the issues that matter the most to them.
Last Congress, despite the increasing chaos and partisanship in Washington, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came together to give veterans greater quality care and greater choice in where to seek care in the MISSION Act, to allow veterans to use their GI Bill benefits whenever they choose in the Forever GI Bill, to make it easier for veterans to get their claims for disability compensation decided in the Appeals Modernization Act, and to ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs is responsive to veterans in the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.
Yet, one of the most notable actions Congress has taken to honor veterans occurred before I came to DC, when the Veterans History Project was created in 2000. The Project allows veterans to share their stories about their service and preserves those stories for future generations to learn from and be inspired by. This year, Chairman Takano and I challenged all Members of Congress to submit at least one of their veteran constituent’s stories to the Project before Veterans Day.
As Karen Lloyd, the Project’s Director, said when the challenge was announced, our veterans’ stories are not only their personal stories, but also America’s story. That story can only be fully told by those who were there — on the battlefield’s front lines or the Pentagon’s inner corridors and every place in between — fighting to defend the freedom and opportunity that our country is known for and has gifted to the world in countless conflicts since the Revolutionary War.
“A veteran left their blood in some foreign country so that I, and every American, could live freely.”
Veterans Day has, thankfully, developed a new meaning since I left the Army as veterans are now given the honor, recognition, and respect they deserve. I certainly feel a greater sense of responsibility than I did as a young man to participate in the many Veterans Day events in my district that pay tribute to the veterans in my backyard. This Veterans Day, I will be thinking about them, about the millions of other veterans in the United States, about the millions still serving, and about the innumerable lives that have been lost in service throughout our country’s history.
I encourage all Americans to join me in that remembrance and to take the time to reflect on and be grateful for the many sacrifices, both great and small, that keep us free.