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Editorial: Honor our military dead -- and the living

Staff Sgt. Joelle Monroe, of the 3rd U.S.

Staff Sgt. Joelle Monroe, of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, places flags at grave sites at Arlington National Cemetery as part of the annual "Flags-In" ceremony in preparation for Memorial Day in Arlington, Va. (May 23, 2013) Credit: AP

There will be no shortage of flags and pomp and genuine gratitude this Memorial Day as a busy nation pauses to honor the men and women who gave their lives to preserve our way of life. One day hardly seems equal to the task.

Everyone who dons the uniform of the United States military does so knowing that simple act will put them in harm's way. That they do it anyway is a humbling expression of their love for Americans and a heroic embrace of duty to our country. That love shouldn't be unrequited, or that duty unreciprocated. So while honoring the dead, we shouldn't neglect the living.

Modern warfare extracts a heavy toll. Many of the men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan came home with severe, complex injuries that soldiers in wars past would never have survived. Others find themselves afflicted by mental illness, joblessness, homelessness and substance abuse. Some, tragically, succumb to hopelessness and take their own lives.

Service members and veterans rely on the rest of us to make sure help will be available to treat their wounds, heal their psyches and meet their financial needs. Programs to do those things should be top notch. Unfortunately, not all of them are. The quality of medical care is spotty, the wait for disability benefits is scandalously long, and finding work can be difficult.

Elected officials who routinely sing the praises of the men and women in the military, invariably giving a nod to how much an appreciative nation owes them, have a duty to ensure the agencies established to meet those needs do so effectively and compassionately.

And on this day -- one that calls to mind the unofficial start of the summer season as much as the nation's sober history of military sacrifice -- we should all take a minute to thank someone in uniform for their service.