He may have been referring to the members of the Royal Air Force, but when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” he could easily have been talking about our own country’s veterans.
They make up less than eight percent of the United States’ population, but it is no overstatement to say our lives would be very different without their countless contributions and sacrifices.
We will pay tribute to this invaluable group of men and women on Monday during Veterans Day, which began as a remembrance of the end of World War I but was later broadened in the mid-1950s to cover all who had served.
The latest estimates show Kentucky is home to 334,000 veterans, and state officials say that the largest group – about 118,000 – served during the Vietnam era, while there are about 90,000 apiece whose tenure came during the Gulf War era or in peacetime. Another 32,400 fought in Korea, and 18,600 were there for us in World War II, which is just six percent of the original group of Kentuckians who enlisted.
A report earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that the number of our country’s veterans will decline from the current 23 million to less than 15 million by 2040. At the same time, the percentage who are women and minorities is expected to increase, a rate that showcases the greater role they now play.
Another federal study underscores the quality of those of those who have dedicated at least part of their career to the military. When compared to their private-sector counterparts who did not serve, veterans are more likely to be in management. The average salary for veterans is higher, too – $5,300 more for men working full-time and $7,000 for women – and they are about twice as likely to work for government.
With two major bases in the commonwealth, and a strong contingency of those who served in the National Guard or the Reserves, it is no surprise that veterans have a sizeable financial impact on our economy.
It’s estimated that they receive about $2 billion a year from the federal government alone, a figure that includes healthcare, vocational assistance and pensions, which grew from $600 million in 2007 to $1 billion in 2012.
Kentucky’s government has been working to make sure our veterans receive the care and services they need. The first veterans-only nursing home, for example, opened in Jessamine County in the early 1990s, and two others were added a little more than a decade ago. In September, Governor Beshear and other officials ceremoniously broke ground for the fourth, which will be in Hardin County and is expected to be operational by the summer of 2015. The federal government provided $21.5 million, while the General Assembly added $18.6 million.
With Kentucky’s national cemeteries largely full, the General Assembly has made sure that space for this select group and their families will never be in short supply. Four state-run cemeteries are now operational, and a fifth is planned in Leslie County.
Some of the other legislative actions taken in recent years include making it easier for veterans to become teachers and to use their firefighter or EMT training in the military to help fulfill the requirements for those jobs here at home; including a veterans status on driver’s license to help them prove their status when necessary; and making Veterans Day a state holiday while calling on schools to make sure students have a good understanding of the role veterans played in our country’s history.
One of the things our students should know is that Kentucky has always given more than her fair share when it comes to protecting our country. It happened during the War of 1812, when our casualties were more than the combined total of every other state; and it has taken place during the past decade’s war on terror, when no base saw more deployments than our own Fort Campbell, and the National Guard has consistently surpassed its own recruiting goals.
On Monday, our nation will pause to remember, reflect and recognize those who stood up to be counted when we needed them most. If you cannot attend one of our area’s ceremonies, I encourage you to keep our veterans and those still serving in your thoughts and prayers.
For those who did or continue to serve, meanwhile, always know that your contributions will never be forgotten. In ways large and small, you have made a profound difference in all of our lives.