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Rep. Mike Denham: Americans owe so much to so few … on Veterans Day and every day

He may have been referring to the members of the Royal Air Force, but when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” he could easily have been talking about our own country’s veterans.

They make up less than 8 percent of the United States’ population, but it is no overstatement to say our lives would be very different without their countless contributions and sacrifices.

We pay tribute to this invaluable group of men and women on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, which began as a remembrance of the end of World War I but was later broadened in the mid-1950s to cover all who had served.

The latest estimates show Kentucky is home to 334,000 veterans, and state officials say that the largest group – about 118,000 – served during the Vietnam era, while there are about 90,000 apiece whose tenure came during the Gulf War era or in peacetime. Another 32,400 fought in Korea, and 18,600 were there for us in World War II, which is just 6 percent of the original group of Kentuckians who enlisted.

A report earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that the number of our country’s veterans will decline from the current 23 million to less than 15 million by 2040. At the same time, the percentage who are women and minorities is expected to increase, a rate that showcases the greater role they now play.

Kentucky’s government has been working to make sure our veterans receive the care and services they need. The first veterans-only nursing home, for example, opened in Jessamine County in the early 1990s, and two others were added a little more than a decade ago. In September, Gov. Beshear and other officials ceremoniously broke ground for the fourth, which will be in Hardin County and is expected to be operational by the summer of 2015. The federal government provided $21.5 million, while the General Assembly added $18.6 million.

With Kentucky’s national cemeteries largely full, the General Assembly has made sure that space for this select group and their families will never be in short supply. Four state-run cemeteries are now operational, and a fifth is planned in Leslie County.

Some of the other legislative actions taken in recent years include making it easier for veterans to become teachers and to use their firefighter or EMT training in the military to help fulfill the requirements for those jobs here at home; including a veterans status on their driver’s license; and making Veterans Day a state holiday while calling on schools to make sure students have a good understanding of the role veterans played in our country’s history.

One of the things our students should know is that Kentucky has always given more than her fair share when it comes to protecting our country. It happened during the War of 1812, when our casualties were more than the combined total of every other state; and it has taken place during the past decade’s war on terror, when no base saw more deployments than our own Fort Campbell, while the National Guard has consistently surpassed its own recruiting goals.

On Veterans Day, our nation pauses to remember, reflect and recognize those who stood up to be counted when we needed them most. If attending one of our area’s ceremonies is not possible, I encourage you to keep our veterans and those still serving in your thoughts and prayers.

For those who did and still do serve, meanwhile, always know that your contributions will never be forgotten. In ways large and small, you have made a profound difference in all of our lives. Thank you.

I hope to hear from you soon.

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Rep. Mike Denham, a Democrat from Maysville, has represented House District 70 (Bracken, Fleming and Mason counties) since 2001.

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