It was just a small, simple, green address book that my mom had populated with addresses of family and close friends. I didn’t think much of it when my dad handed it to me. He told me that my mother had filled it with people I should write to while away.
The trip from a small town outside of Topeka to Kansas City was quiet but purposeful. I could tell my dad was proud of what I was about to accomplish. I didn’t speak much, but I listened intently to the short stories he shared with me about boot camp and about his time in the Marine Corps. As a young man at that time, I really didn’t know what it meant to be a service member or a future American veteran.
After a couple of weeks into Marine Corps boot camp, I finally had some time to write home. Even though I knew my parents’ address, I cracked open that green address book. As revealed by my dad, my mom had diligently filled in several addresses in alphabetical order. As I flipped through the book, I quickly came to the end and noticed something that has since always stuck with me. My dad had left me an important handwritten note. It read, “Son, I am proud of you, and I want you to remember one thing. No matter what, you should always protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
This is something I always think about while caring for American veterans, and it is why I continue to serve.
Fast forward 20 years. I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to care for American veterans. As an employee of the Kansas City VA Medical Center, I find myself in an occupation that is a privilege and that brings me great professional satisfaction. Having served and knowing what it means to be a service member, I work for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs because America must continue its promise to veterans.
With events such as what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, veterans need to see how committed our government is in taking care of them, even after their service. On that day 18 years ago, many aspects of the military and our veterans’ lives in the United States were changed forever.
The effects of that day had an everlasting ripple effect to our service members. Many had multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, which sets them apart from previous generations who may have had to ship off to war only once.
This fact has changed the way we approach the care for our veterans, who are also more diverse than their predecessors. About 17% are women; 15.3% are black and 12.1% are Hispanic. Almost half (47.6%) are still under the age of 35.
It’s easy to talk about all the amazing things that the VA has given back to America: the modern electronic medical record, the nicotine patch, artificial limbs, the first successful liver transplant, implantable cardiac pacemakers, bar code software for administering medications — not to mention three Nobel prizes. All Americans, not just veterans, benefit from the VA. No other institution trains more doctors or nurses.
The health care needs of American veterans are unique. However, now more than ever, a strong VA is critical to care for the veterans of today. Also, if and when something like the events of 9/11 happen again, future veterans must be assured that our government is committed to protecting them, as they protect those who cannot protect themselves. Just like my dad wrote in that little green address book.
God bless America, our military, our veterans and our 9/11 victims and their families.
David Isaacks is the CEO and director of the Kansas City VA Medical Center.