Every year, right after Election Day, we gather to honor our veterans. But this year's election was unlike many others. It was contentious. It got ugly. It even tested the bounds of our democracy.
So, here we are. On the other side. And after so much focus on what divides us, today we focus on what unites us: A deep love of our country and a patriotism that goes way beyond simply feeling pride.
That patriotism is why so many veterans have risked their lives to defend our nation, no matter who was president. That patriotism is what compels veterans to keep serving their communities, even after their military service has ended. That patriotism demands our support for our men and women in uniform - on the battlefield and once they are home.
So many of Minnesota's nearly 370,000 veterans serve with distinction only to come home and serve their communities. They are teachers, paramedics, miners, small-business owners and farmers.
Take Dr. Kenneth Hughes of St. Paul. Kenneth served during the Vietnam War. He trained in emergency medicine to serve as a combat medic. When Kenneth came home, he went to college and earned his medical degree using his VA education benefits. And he's spent most of his life as a family practitioner, helping families and children throughout the Midwest. Fifty years later, he is still serving his community. His service has never ended. It is only fitting that Kenneth was awarded the Silver Star.
It may be in a veteran's second nature to serve, but that doesn't mean it's easy. A lot of veterans have trouble finding jobs or getting healthy when they come home, making it tough to get by. We need to make it easier, and we can. In fact, it's the least we can do.
Our veterans deserve the opportunity to get good jobs and support themselves. Our communities need the skills that our veterans learned on the battlefield and in their training.
Thousands of the brave men and women who serve in our military receive emergency medical training as part of their duties. Unfortunately, when they leave the military, their medical training is often not counted toward training and certification for civilian medical personnel positions. So, they have had to start over and pay thousands of dollars for training they've already received.
This doesn't make sense. It isn't fair to our veterans, and it's not good for our communities - especially our rural communities that often lack medical personnel. But a new law I worked on is helping change that, by speeding up the transition to civilian jobs. It's a win-win: We bring down veteran's unemployment and bring down the shortage of much-needed emergency medical personnel.
A good job with good pay is a good start, but our veterans also need better benefits. We need to make sure our veterans don't have to wait for their benefits or fight through red tape to get them.
I've sat with veterans and talked about the VA wait times - which can be upwards of 90 days. I hear the frustration and the anger. We need to do everything we can to cut the red tape and streamline the process. While we're at it, let's hire more medical professionals at VA facilities, too. We can't give up. If our veterans have taught us nothing else, it's that.
True patriotism isn't fleeting. It is something we must live every day. Our veterans know that. They lived that patriotism on the battlefield. Some of them lived it even when they got wounded, and they keep living it here at home by going to school, raising families, working and volunteering. Patriotism without end. Service without end.
Just as their patriotism persists, so must our commitment to them. Whether it is helping our veterans find a good job or get better benefits and care, we must always stand by those who stood up for us. Not just on Veterans Day but every day.