There are more than 4.2 million disabled American veterans. Despite the fact that they have left parts of their bodies—and at times their peace of mind—on the battlefield, they haven’t been given their own recognition.
That changed Thursday, when disabled vets gathered at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, DC for the inaugural commemoration of their National Day of Honor.
The long-overdue expression of gratitude included VA Secretary David Shulkin, who praised the injured vets and their courage.
“It’s so important we have this National Day of Honor to keep the stories of courage alive,” he said.
“The National Day of Honor for American Veterans Disabled for Life is an important opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to recognizing and serving this special group of patriots.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill) spoke about her injuries, and about the efforts of her fellow service members in saving her life.
“I would not be here if it weren’t for my buddies,” Duckworth said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them, and what they did to save me.
Duckworth lost both of her legs and partial use of her right arm in 2004, when the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting in Iraq was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“The guys who saved me did what every service member would do— that’s amazing,” she said.
The idea for the day came at a Veterans’ Day celebration almost 20 years ago, when philanthropist and disabled veterans advocate Lois Pope said to then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown, “We have Veterans Day, complete with all the parades, pomp, and pageantry. But we should also have a day specifically for disabled veterans.”
Pope envisioned the National Day of Honor and led the building and dedication of the Memorial, the nation’s first and only permanent public homage to disabled veterans.
The Memorial was dedicated on Oct. 5 2014, making Oct. 5 the “most appropriate day for all Americans to show gratitude and support for the men and women who continue to bear the scars of war long after the fighting on the battlefield ends,” she said.