In honor of the ultimate sacrifice for country

May 25, 2014 

On this Memorial Day weekend, this region's many remembrances of America's fallen heroes feature one that merits an extra spotlight.

Manatee County main ceremony will honor the soldiers who perished during the Vietnam War and the conflict's veterans. This salute comes on the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as Herald reporter James A. Jones Jr. noted last week. (Jones, by the way, is a Vietnam veteran, and we offer our salute to his service.)

That resolution escalated the war with the addition of conventional military forces. Manatee County lost 30 residents in the fighting, and their names grace the Vietnam War Memorial.

Monday's ceremony will be special since the memorial now sits at Veterans Park near Manatee Memorial Hospital, having been moved from the Historic Courthouse this year. Veterans requested the move.

Let us also pay tribute to Manatee's seven soldiers lost in the lengthy Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Operation Iraqi Freedom ended in 2012, and Operation Enduring Freedom/Afghanistan is scheduled to conclude later this year.

But the losses have been high, 4,423 Americans in Iraq and 2,320 in Afghanistan as of May 20. The controversial Vietnam War witnessed 47,434 combat deaths.

With widespread street protests across the United States during the war, soldiers did not enjoy the public's embrace upon returning home -- a shameful episode that still bears scars.

Today, the vast majority of Americans rally around the troops, appreciating military service for freedom's sake. And this makes Manatee County's focus on the conflict in Vietnam well deserved.

A national disgrace

This Memorial Day comes amid a disturbing scandal embroiling the Department of Veterans Affairs. Allegations of treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals have sparked a furor.

Last week, President Obama finally denounced the purported misconduct at agency hospitals -- three weeks after a Phoenix facility came under fire over allegations that 40 veterans died while waiting for are and staff hid delays in treatment [SoftReturn]on falsified appointment records.

Twenty-six VA facilities across the nation are now under investigation.

Intolerable mismanagement by top administrators cannot go unpunished and the agency must be reformed quickly.

The influx of new patients require immediate action. The United States sent more than 2.2 million troops into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in more than 48,000 wounded warriors. Other soldiers are finding they need various treatments upon returning home.

Overall, more than 9 million veterans are enrolled in VA health care. They all deserve top-notch treatment for serving this country, often at a cost to their health.

As we memorialize those who made the ultimate sacrifice this weekend, let's us salute the living -- and demand the country live up to the promise of military service with honorable health care.

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