The weather grows colder, the leaves are changing colors then falling, and it is time to gather close all we hold dear and to remember those who have gone before and those who have given for us—it is November. Across the world nations set aside a day to honor fallen heroes and wounded warriors. In Canada and Australia, it is Remembrance Day, in the US, it is Veterans Day, November 11.
War is older than recorded history, and every culture has experiences of violent conflict. Thus, every society has those men and women who have been harmed in body and mind and soul in mortal combat and yet survived and those who have perished on the battlefield or in its aftermath or wished they had.
The bloody, brutal human toll of organized strife has led many a society to recognize a moral obligation to develop a dedicated means of delivering medical care and social support to not just those who are serving actively but to those whose days in action are past. The utilitarian rationale for military medicine is clearly stated in the United States Army Medical Command mission, “Army Medicine provides sustained health services and research in support of the Total Force to enable readiness and conserve the fighting strength while caring for our Soldiers for Life and Families.”1 It is a measure of the self-sacrifice of those who have sworn to defend their homeland and their healing brothers and sisters in arms that they deliberately make this commitment to each other and their fellow citizens. Yet we cannot easily extend this logic to the care of veterans. Why have diverse countries across millennia seen fit to carve out a special space for veteran health care? In this column, we will seek an answer in culture and history.
The Roman Empire, which relied heavily on its soldiers for the peace and prosperity of the empire was among the first political entities to recognize the need for military health care and to dedicate human and financial capital to subsidize care for veterans. Among the first hospitals in the world were built to care for Roman legions and the ancient medics like their modern counterparts advanced medical and especially surgical progress that benefited the public.2Today it is not only the US that has special systems of health care for veterans. The Australia Department of Veterans’ Affairs provides many of the same health and social service benefits as those of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Likewise, Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) offers those who served and are eligible a variety of resources, including health care. Why does VAC provide health care for veterans?
Veterans Affairs Canada deeply values the contribution that Veterans have made to the development of our nation and we honour the sacrifices they have made.... In expressing Canada’s gratitude to them, we strive to exemplify many of the same principles which they represent–integrity, respect, service and commitment, accountability, and teamwork. 3