Veterans: Serving Those Who Served

As Americans, we have the privilege every November 11 of honoring the men and women who have bravely served to secure and defend this country.

Their sacrifices for our freedom are immeasurable, and we can never do enough to show our appreciation.

But we must do more than we are doing now.

This Veterans Day, I will with great pride and humility be a Grand Marshal of the Veterans Day Parade in New York City. There will be some 25,000 participants in the parade, including U.S. veterans going back to World War II, Vietnam and stretching through the conflicts of the present day. Four Medal of Honor winners will take part.

Hundreds of thousands will cheer their presence, wave flags and recall those in their own families who have left home to put themselves between us and those who seek to do us harm.

America's veterans are the reason that no country, no despot, no terrorist has successfully challenged our freedoms. Each of our veterans has felt this great responsibility on his or her shoulders. They have selflessly defended that which is so valuable, yet so fragile -- our democracy, our country of and by its people, and the rights enshrined by the Founders, who 235 years ago fought to make liberty a reality for us all.

We owe veterans a debt of gratitude. But more than that, we must accept our own responsibility to serve those who have served us.

Today, a growing group of American veterans suffer for their sacrifice. The unemployment rate among our vets is twice the national average. Many face foreclosure on their homes as a troubled economy compounds the effects of a decade of war.

We face a true crisis in the all-too-frequent tragedy of veterans' suicides -- one every 36 hours. The plight of our veterans, and our failure to help them, is a dishonor to America.

But there are things we can do.

First, we must help veterans with jobs. Veterans are highly trained, incredibly motivated and disciplined, and will do any employer proud. Yet, many return from service only to stand in the unemployment line. They struggle to feed and clothe their families. This is shameful.

American business, big and small, must make hiring veterans a priority. It is a matter of honor that veterans be given a new opportunity after having put themselves in harm's way, risked so much and given up the warmth and comfort of their own homes to assure our freedom. A job is all most would ask in return.

To this end, I founded the "Redeploy to Employ Foundation," an organization that is working with businesses to hire our returning Iraq and Afghan veterans. I am happy to say that a number of American companies have active programs to recruit and employ military veterans.

Our defenders today are largely citizen soldiers, military reserve members who are called upon to leave well-paying jobs at which they have succeeded for many years. Their uniformed pay is not even close to what they were making in civilian life, and the hardships are visited upon their families. It is a national disgrace that any military family need food stamps, but it happens all the time.

Again, some companies have stepped forward to help, paying the difference between military and civilian wages for employees who are called to serve. Every company that is able to should make its workers whole when they are on active duty.

Freedom doesn't come free. We've seen that proven again this year as the Arab Spring uprisings freed millions in North Africa from totalitarian rule -- as always, at a great cost. People are willing to die in other countries to secure the freedoms that we enjoy from birth.

So this Veterans Day we will celebrate those who have put their lives on the line for the rest of us. Let's all attend a parade -- in New York it's on Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. along Fifth Avenue between 23rd and 56th streets -- and thank them with our cheers. But better still, let's ensure that the America to which they gave so much gives back to them -- with a job and a secure, safe future.