The empty chair

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, August 19, 2015

by Randy Forbes

Today is not Veterans Day. It’s not Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.

On those days, America pauses. We take a moment to recognize our service members, honor the fallen, and reflect on the sacrifices of those who have worn this country’s uniform both past and present. We hold parades and memorial services. We stop to say thank you. We remember why this nation is great, and why it is free.

But for many families across America, they don’t need a certain day to remind them of these realities. They have a visible reminder, every day, of the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform: they have an empty chair.

It’s a simple thing, but what it represents is powerful. For some families, it means mommy or daddy won’t be sitting around the dinner table that night, talking about report cards or after school activities or the trip they are taking to grandma’s next month. For other families, the empty chair remains year-round, symbolizing the loved one who is never coming home. It stands for loss and pain, but it is also a quiet tribute to the pride, honor, and heroism of those who serve, and the families who sacrifice so much for this nation. For these Americans, every day is Veterans Day. Every day is Memorial Day.

The empty chair may not be at your table, or at mine tonight, but it holds enormous meaning for all of us as citizens of this country. It represents why we have the freedom to bow our heads and pray, to think as we choose, to vote as we believe, and to carve out our own destinies. It symbolizes what makes this nation great: individuals who answer the call of duty and put country above self. Individuals who would rather fight and die free than go quietly into the night.

I believe there is no higher call for Americans here at home than for us to defend our defenders. As the men and women of the U.S. military take on the duty of protecting and defending this nation on the frontlines, we should take on not just the duty — but the honor — of having their backs here at home. Why? Because how we treat those who have worn this country’s uniform is part of what defines us as a nation.

For me, it is one of the biggest reasons I serve in Congress. It’s what keeps me up at night and what is forefront in my mind as I serve as chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. As chairman and your representative in Congress, I have no greater priority than ensuring our service members are properly equipped to carry out their mission, return home safely, and, once home, receive the care and support they deserve.

Accomplishing that effectively includes a lot of things: it means holding the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for the service — or lack thereof — that they deliver to our heroes (read H.R. 1038, which just passed the House with my support). It includes assisting homeless and struggling veterans with finding meaningful employment and providing reintegration programs (read H.R. 474, which also just passed the House with my support). It means hiring more heroes (H. J. Res 61) and working to strengthen support and care for our veteran’s grappling with PTS or mental health issues (H.R. 203). It also means ensuring our men and women on the front lines are the best-trained and best-equipped in the world, and it means putting national security and our servicemembers’ well-being above politics. All of these action steps are just a start. Much more remains to be done to make sure our heroes receive the support and care they both deserve and have earned. The effort must be ongoing — informing our decisions and topping our priority list. Our heroes deserve nothing less.

For most of us, today will just be an ordinary day.

We’ll drive to the office, pick up the kids from school, go grocery shopping, pay the bills or cook dinner. But today, and every day, let’s take a moment to pause in gratitude for the men and women who wear this country’s uniform and sacrifice so much that we might live in freedom and in peace.

Let us pause in gratitude for the many tables where a place setting will be skipped tonight at dinner and a chair will be empty. Because not only do their sacrifices make this country great, they keep this country free.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see