Twenty-four times this Veterans Day — every hour, on the hour — soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment will change the guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. In one of the most solemn duties our military performs, these Sentinels stand watch 24 hours a day over a marble sarcophagus bearing the inscription: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
Though we may never know their names, we can never forget their sacrifice. From the unknown soldiers to the more than 2 million women and men serving in the armed forces today, this unbroken line of patriots has stepped up generation after generation to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and embody the potential of the American experiment.
Now, we must honor our sacred duty to them. This is not about doing veterans a favor. This is about the United States keeping a promise. When you raise your right hand and vow to give everything to your country, America commits to taking care of you and your family. It’s a two-way promise that lasts long after you hang up your uniform.
As commander-in-chief, I will keep our nation’s commitment to our service members and their families. We will support veterans and their families throughout their military journey, provide the care they have earned to heal the wounds of war, and engage all Americans to welcome service members back into their communities and ensure that they can thrive.
Supporting active-duty service members begins with ensuring that their lives are not taken lightly — that they are not used as props or pawns or asked to shoulder the burden of endless war. It also means taking care of military families, which is why my administration will make more military early learning and child care available, and help military children find belonging in school, unlock the potential of military spouses with targeted transition and reintegration programs, and hold privatized housing contractors accountable for providing safe housing.
We will protect immigrant service members from deportation and end the outrage that is the transgender military ban, because nobody who puts their life on the line for our country should fear they will lose their career or the country they call home.
For the majority of veterans who don’t receive care through the Veterans Administration, we will provide affordable coverage through our Medicare For All Who Want It plan. We’ll also modernize and depoliticize VA, implementing an electronic health system responsive to the real needs of veterans, and establishing a White House coordinator to improve data and record sharing between VA and the Defense Department.
We’ll reach out to rural and aging veterans in innovative ways, and extend Vietnam veterans the respect and care too many were denied when they came home. And with 20 veterans and active-duty service members dying by suicide every day, we will devote every available resource to address the epidemic of veteran suicide. That includes increasing investments in suicide prevention and developing a 24/7 VA concierge service to provide mental health care long before it becomes a crisis.
Supporting service members and welcoming veterans back into communities is not just an obligation for the federal government. Which is why — in addition to policies like increasing the flexibility of the GI Bill and supporting veteran small business owners — I will invite entire communities to help restore the sense of normalcy and belonging veterans seek.
Returning home from Afghanistan was disorienting even for me after a deployment that came in the middle of my service as mayor — and with a civilian job and community waiting for me, I had more advantages than many do when they return. Ensuring that redeploying veterans, and those who leave active duty, feel a sense of belonging and purpose in communities is something all of us can help to offer.
In South Bend, we were one of three communities chosen to pilot an initiative called Veterans Community Connections. Anyone coming off active-duty can get connected to our network of volunteers who can help them navigate their way around our community — not just finding a job, but a good dentist, haircut, or even a trombone lesson for their child. We will expand on programs like these, to help civilians embrace veterans so they can feel not just supported but recruited into the life of our communities, empowered to contribute and lead at home.
In the dust of a war zone, I learned to trust my life to people with whom I had nothing in common with except the flag velcroed to our shoulders. What we shared was a common commitment to each other and to our country, and that was enough. When I’m commander-in-chief, America will reciprocate that commitment not just in our words, but in our actions.
Pete Buttigieg is a Democratic presidential candidate. Buttigieg served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. He was honorably discharged in 2017.