Last week, we Americans exercised our hallowed right to vote in record numbers. We did so at a time of unusual stress, facing steep challenges and deep divisions within our country. Yet once more, we honored our democratic system and our heritage by using the ballot to speak our minds.

As a democracy, we debate, argue, and challenge each other’s beliefs, as well as our government’s actions and policies. Oftentimes, we take such freedom for granted. But we shouldn’t. World history is filled with examples of tyrants and repressive governments who stifled or punished freedom of thought and expression.

It’s true that freedom isn’t free. And it’s our brave, patriotic veterans who risk everything in defense of our ideals, traditions and freedoms.  

On Wednesday, please take a moment to reflect upon the allegiance, dedication and devotion of every person who has put on the uniform in defense of our country and our freedom.

Our 17 million veterans have made great sacrifices on our behalf. Separated from their loved ones, many have served in war zones for months or years and — tragically — returned with their lives permanently altered by serious injuries and lasting wounds, both physical and mental. And I hope every hospital and health system in America can find time this Veteran’s Day to honor and celebrate the veterans on their teams.

Through the AHA Federal Health Systems Executive Leaders Roundtable, we are strongly committed to partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs; the Department of Defense; and the Indian Health Service to provide care to veterans in their communities and honoring their service to our country.

We have advocated for legislation to improve the care our veterans receive, including 2018’s bipartisan VA MISSION Act. And we have developed and shared resources to help hospitals and health systems hire returning veterans, who are often some of the hardest working and most dedicated employees out there.

Growing up the daughter of a career military officer in the United States Army, I was raised on the value of service to others. My father, Vern Estes, survived the Battle of the Bulge in 1945 before serving in Korea and then Vietnam. He then spent the rest of his career in service to others as a psychologist. But his story is not unique; it's one you hear time and again. Because our veterans never put away their fierce love of our country and the ideals it represents — of giving yourself over for a greater cause that you believe in.

It’s an ideal they valiantly represent and that we see so clearly in those who are with us on this health care mission.

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