By far, the most inspirational point of the State of the Union speech came when President Barack Obama told the story of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg. The president should follow his powerful words with deeds.
Grievously wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2009 during his 10th deployment, Remsburg spent three months in a coma and endured numerous surgeries and grueling rehabilitation. Now 30 and living near Phoenix, he is partly paralyzed and blind in one eye.
The president used Remsburg as a heroic example of the resilience that is in America’s character and that we need again. When Obama introduced the sergeant, seated in the gallery next to First Lady Michelle Obama, members of Congress responded with their longest standing ovation. Some had tears in their eyes.
But for this heart-tugging moment to have real meaning, the president and Congress must do better by all those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Too many of those who have returned home – 40,000 a year to California – don’t have work. Some are homeless. Too many are still waiting for their benefits.
While there has been progress, there is much more yet to do. And just as the president said he wouldn’t wait for Congress to strengthen the middle class and expand opportunities for the poor, he should act to help veterans.
Obama must follow through on his vow to keep slashing the backlog of disability claims so that the new generation of veterans receives the benefits and medical care they deserve. As of Saturday, there were still 400,000 backed-up claims, though that was down by about 210,000 from the high point last March, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The president must keep his promise to continue working to help veterans translate their skills into jobs at home. In December, the unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans was 7.3 percent – down from 10.8 percent a year earlier but still higher than the non-veteran rate of 6.4 percent.
In his speech, Obama bragged that an initiative led by his wife and Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, has encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses, helped by tax credits approved by Congress in November 2011. We need more such efforts.
It’s easy to stand up for veterans on the campaign trail – or in a State of the Union speech. The real test is whether lawmakers do so when they face tough choices and there’s real money at stake.