Throughout our nation’s history, our citizens have left the safety of home to preserve our freedom and to extend the blessings of freedom to others. Each year, as we did recently, Americans pause on Veterans Day to honor these brave men and women for their duty, honor, and sacrifice.
This year, I was delighted to participate in a wonderful Veterans Day Education and Appreciation Celebration at Stearns Junior/Senior High School in Millinocket, and to march in the Portland Veterans’ Day parade.
These ceremonies always remind me of my childhood when my father, a World War II veteran, would bring me to the parade in my hometown of Caribou where I learned of the sacrifices made by our veterans.
It is estimated that some 48 million Americans have served in uniform since the founding of our nation. Today, more than 22 million veterans live among us, more than 127,000 right here in Maine.
Those numbers are impressive not because of their sheer size, but because they describe the history of people united by the highest ideals of humanity. Those numbers are not cold statistics. Each one tells a story.
Whether they serve in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, or the Merchant Marine, whether they serve in the regular forces, the National Guard or the Reserves, they pay the price of our freedom in times of conflict, and they are our shield in times of peace.
We honor those who paid the ultimate price, whether they lie at rest in foreign lands or in their hometowns. We honor those who lived beyond their years of military service but who have since passed on. We honor those who remain missing and pledge that they never will be forgotten. And we honor those veterans who are with us today. We owe them all a great debt.
We repay that debt in part with the gratitude we express on Veterans Day, but only in part. As a nation, we must also repay our debt with the health care, rehabilitation services, educational and employment opportunities our veterans have earned by their service.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), roughly 12 percent of the adult homeless population in our country is veterans. This is a problem that, as a leader of the Senate Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, I have worked to address through funding the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) voucher program which combines rental assistance for homeless vets with case management and clinical services provided by the VA. The annual funding of $75 million provides approximately 10,000 new vouchers each year.
I’m pleased to report that we are making real progress. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently released its annual Homeless Assessment Report which updates the progress in addressing homelessness. Since 2010, there has been a 33 percent decrease in the number of homeless veterans nationwide.
It is the American character to answer the call of duty. It is also the American character to be grateful to those who answer that call. It is because of our veterans and those who serve today that our country still stands tall, that our founding principles remain strong, and that people around the world who once knew nothing but tyranny now know the blessings of freedom.