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Memorial Day 2023: Remembering those who died, doing right by the living

A grateful nation must do better for its veterans, their families, and active duty military.

Children run through US flags set next to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Boston Common. More than 37,000 US flags were planted around the monument to honor each US military member from the state who died while serving since the Revolutionary War.JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

The flags on countless graves, the flags on Boston Common — all 37,000 of them — are solemn reminders to honor those who died in the service of this country, to hold close their memories, and to comfort those who still grieve their loss.

But it is also true that the best way to honor the sacrifices that cannot be repaid is to care for the living — to care for the spouses and families those service members left behind, and to care for and about the veterans who did return.

Making sure the nation’s current service members and veterans get the care and services they deserve too often requires a level of political perseverance and dedication in Washington and on Beacon Hill nearly equal to that expected on the battlefield.


A recent case in point, the Brandon Act, signed into law in December 2021 and intended to make it easier for active duty military personnel to seek a mental health evaluation at any time and in any environment. Sponsored by Representative Seth Moulton, a Marine veteran from Massachusetts, and fellow vet Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, the act was named for Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta who died by suicide in 2018.

Passing the bill, as it turns out, was the easy part. It wasn’t until just this month that the Department of Defense actually ordered its implementation.

“Shame on Pentagon bureaucrats who took 15 months, during which even more service members died by suicide, to make this happen,” Moulton said in a statement. “The DOD still has a lot of work to do to curb the shockingly high number of suicides among our young men and women who serve, but this is a step in the right direction.”

One pending piece of legislation with rare bipartisan support, including that of Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, is the Love Lives On Act that would allow the spouses of deceased service members to retain their survivor benefits even if they remarry. Currently, a surviving spouse under the age of 55 loses those benefits upon remarrying. The legislation would also update the 60-year-old language of the law to make clear that a surviving spouse may be of the same sex. And it would eliminate the 15-year limit on a surviving spouse’s ability to access Fry Scholarships for relatives of service members who died in the line of duty.


In short, it adds a few basic human kindnesses to those left behind to carry on, to rebuild their lives.

Similarly, the Caring for Survivors Act would increase the rate for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation paid to the survivors of service members who died in the line of duty or veterans who died from service-related injuries or illnesses — a benefit that has been largely untouched since it was created in 1993.

The GI Bill Restoration Act of 2023, sponsored by Moulton and Representative Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, would restore GI Bill benefits for surviving Black World War II veterans, their surviving spouses, and certain direct descendants. The bill is aimed at righting the racially motivated administrative wrongs committed against some of the 1.2 million Black vets who served during that time — yet were denied the funds to attend college or to buy a home, a benefit that their white counterparts enjoyed.


Closer to home, this is the year Massachusetts finally got a Cabinet-level Office of Veterans’ Services now headed by Secretary Jon Santiago, a veteran and former emergency room doctor. The creation of the Office of Veterans’ Services is not an end in itself but a means to providing a focus on the delivery of services, to advocacy for veterans, and to providing support for a host of outside programs that benefit veterans — like the nonprofit Home Base, which was promised some $2 million by the Healey administration this year to provide clinical services, including care for post-traumatic stress, to local vets.

Sure, Memorial Day parades and concerts are touching traditions and great ways to teach a new generation about the sacrifices freedom sometimes demands. But it takes action and engagement to get the job done for vets, for active duty service members, and for their families. Come Tuesday morning, that job goes on.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.