City leaders promise more to nation’s veterans 

click to enlarge Brig. Gen. C. David Turner, center, rides in the 2014 Memorial Day parade and ceremony at the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio. - MIKE KOOZMIN/ THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/ The S.f. Examiner
  • Brig. Gen. C. David Turner, center, rides in the 2014 Memorial Day parade and ceremony at the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio.

Fifty years after entering one war, America is preparing to end another.

The mission, and the message, is the same: honor the dead -- and do a better job of caring for the living.

Pledges to work harder to ensure military veterans' welfare marked The City's annual Memorial Day ceremony Monday at the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio.

The day's theme was the Vietnam War. The 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which drew the United States into the conflict that cost 58,000 American lives, is coming in August.

But looming just as large over the several thousand attendees on Monday and the 32,000 people buried on the eucalyptus-sheltered hillside was the prospect of peace for the first time since 2001, with American combat operations in Afghanistan set to end at the end of the year.

Elected officials paid homage to former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines present -- some elderly, some fresh from the Middle East -- as well as the "record number of teenagers" on hand, according to organizer Wally Levin, most of whom came from the Oakland Military Institute.

Speakers at the event said the country has to a large extent failed its older combat heroes.

"Are we fulfilling our promise to our veterans?," asked state Sen. Mark Leno. The list of recent injustices to veterans is "horrifying and unacceptable," he added. He lamented slashed veteran budgets, long waits at Veterans Affairs hospitals, and the fact that few receive the mandated mental-health evaluations upon discharge to civilian life.

"Congress must better budget the full cost of going to war, and that includes the cost of care for our veterans in a timely and comprehensive manner," Leno said, to applause.

Former service members also comprise an alarming percentage of The City's homeless population, with as many as three in 10 people on the streets being veterans, officials said.

Since 2011, when Mayor Ed Lee took office, The City has built housing targeted for veterans, enough to put one-third of San Francisco's homeless veterans indoors, the mayor said at the ceremony.

The City has also worked to find veterans jobs, with a new program with Swords to Plowshares putting 53 veterans in jobs with tech firms in the past few months, said Lee, who promised that now and in the future, the welcome home must be "not just words, but in deeds."

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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