That salute from Churchill echoes across 80 years to this day and is amplified in the praise for every front-line responder in every ambulance and firetruck, police car and nursing home, and of course in the triage tents, emergency rooms and ICUs of every hospital in America. While a record number of patients contend with a virus the likes of which they never imagined, they are ministered to by teams of doctors, nurses and specialists as well as by cleaning crews and cafeteria workers who keep these vast expanses of hope at work around-the-clock. The health-care professionals, first responders and hospital staffs around the world are showered in admiration and rightly so.
How about some concrete thanks to go with the desperately needed prayers?
In Tuesday’s column, I referenced an idea that is circulating through Donald Trump’s White House — eligibility for front-line responders to the virus for GI Bill benefits. It is on the president’s mind as well. I hope he follows through on the idea; it would be good for the country to have a legislative proposal on which 80 to 90 percent of the citizens can agree.
The “Forever GI Bill,” signed by Trump in August 2017, enjoyed huge bipartisan support because the American military enjoys huge bipartisan approval, and various “GI Bills” have always advanced through Congress rapidly.
Even as the GOP and Democrats wrangle endlessly about how much and where defense spending should flow, both parties have traditionally rallied to support the men and women who have fought the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and indeed around the world. Civilians like me, with family in uniform, have a little more understanding of the sacrifices our service members make, but still we only imagine we know. We don’t.
Even front-line war correspondents with pedigrees as long and as deep as the now-retired John Burns of the New York Times and Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker are quick to say their lives at the front lines were much, much easier than those of the warriors. Even when post-traumatic stress strikes reporters (The Post’s former war correspondent Tom Ricks has written movingly about this), the country still draws a line between combat soldiers and everyone else.
This crisis is the chance to mark the valor of civilians who serve every day now in conflicts every bit as life-or-death as war and the complicated “peacetimes” that usually follow. It would require careful drafting to make sure that a grant of GI Bill benefits to civilians was not too lightly conferred. But clearly there are tens of thousands of Americans at work in the virus “hot zones” who are risking themselves and their families every day for the common good. We should clap them to and from work when we can, but we should also create for them a concrete set of economic thank-yous for those seeing us through the crisis. They, too, have been at the point of the spear. Only at home, in scrubs, for days on end.
There’s little doubt that the vast majority of Americans would support this expansion of the GI Bill. The famous post-World War II measure has evolved over time and should evolve again. Right now.