Veterans Day was established to commemorate that precise moment — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 — when the guns of the First World War fell silent, and to remember the 116,000 Americans who fell while carrying the torch of liberty.

In the years since, we have expanded the scope of this national day of observance to honor all the men and women, throughout our nation’s history, who have served our nation in uniform. This day is dedicated to Americans of all times who have answered freedom’s call.

Some who answered did not return home. Some did return but have since passed on. Some remain missing but will never be forgotten. We express our gratitude to them in our hearts.

Some live in honor among us; approximately 24 million across America, with more than 136,000 right here in Maine. Whether they served in recent years or in generations past, we express our gratitude to them in our words and through our actions. We express our gratitude by ensuring that our nearly 24 million veterans receive the support — quality health care and educational and employment opportunities — they earned through their service.

As Veterans Day nears and as the 111th Congress winds down, I would like to take this opportunity to provide an update on my recent efforts in the Senate on behalf of our veterans.

In a large rural state such as Maine, it is essential that our veterans have access to health care. I have consistently urged the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to continue to invest in Togus VA Medical Center, our community-based clinics, and our veterans’ homes so Maine veterans can receive quality health care as close to their homes as possible.

Recently, the VA made an announcement that will help bring that care closer than ever. Northern Maine was chosen as one of five national locations for a pilot project to improve access by contracting with non-VA health-care providers in the region. This program will reduce travel and increase choices for veterans, and will allow non-VA health-care professionals to serve them.

On Nov. 10, the day before Veterans Day, Maine’s first project dedicated to serving homeless veterans will celebrate its grand opening in Saco. The Arthur B. Huot Veterans Housing provides 10 independent efficiency apartments, and our veterans will receive the support and training they need.

Nationwide, nearly 154,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and twice as many experience homelessness during a year.

I commend the Volunteers of America of Northern New England and its community partners for their dedication to these veterans, and I was pleased to work with them to bring this project to fruition.

The namesake of this project exemplifies a special quality of our veterans. After his service in the United States Navy, Skip Huot returned home to raise a family, build a business, and serve his community. He was known throughout Saco for his commitment to civic organizations, charities, education and his church. Like so many of our veterans, his service continued long after his days in uniform ended.

One of the great experiences I have serving Maine in the Senate is the opportunity to help our veterans obtain the medals and commendations they earned through their service but never received. I recently met with one such veteran, Henry Morrill of Bingham, who fought in the Pacific in World War II.

And when his service ended, Henry – like so many of his fellow soldiers – did not seek glory and acclaim. All he wanted was to return to his home, his family and his friends. Also like so many others, he continued to serve as a member of the Maine National Guard. He truly exemplifies the American tradition of the citizen-soldier. It was an honor to meet him and to present him with the medals he earned defending freedom 65 years ago.

One way our veterans continue to serve is through veterans organizations. These organizations, such as the American Legion, the VFW, and the Disabled American Veterans, support both their fellow veterans and those who serve today. They deserve our support.

In September, the Senate passed legislation that I introduced that will allow veterans’ organizations to apply for and receive surplus property donations from the federal government, the same as charities, hospitals, schools, and other nonprofit organizations do now. This property often includes such items as computers, vehicles and home appliances.

This legislation, if passed by the House and signed by the president, would enhance the ability of veterans groups to serve. It is one more way to say “thank you” to those Americans who have worn the uniform and to their families.

In addition, I will continue to advocate for a continued commissary/exchange presence in the Brunswick-Topsham region. This is a benefit our Maine veterans earned and should continue to receive.

I recently had the great pleasure of meeting a group of 16 World War II veterans at a wonderful event hosted by the Brown-Emmons Post 137 American Legion in Alfred.

I enjoyed hearing stories about their experiences and sharing stories with them about my own father, also a veteran of that war. Like him, they have those special qualities that define the American character. They are proud of their service. They are modest about their contributions to history and their personal heroism. They remember their comrades — those who came home and those who did not.

This Veterans Day, let us remember them and honor their service through words and actions that proclaim our gratitude.