When the Continental Army was discharged in 1781, the new government of the United States didn't bother paying the soldiers who had defeated the greatest power on the planet. Two years later, former soldiers from Pennsylvania marched on the Capitol in Philadelphia and demanded their pay, prompting the Congress to flee to Princeton, N.J. A few weeks later, the U.S. Army forced the protesters out of the capital.

But that was just the beginning of the government reneging on promises to veterans. The current situation, in which veterans face long waiting periods for access to health care, is only the latest example.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge vetoed a bill proposing a special bonus for World War I veterans, declaring that "patriotism bought and paid for is not patriotism." Congress disagreed and overrode the veto, authorizing bonuses to be paid over several years.

The Great Depression intervened and ceased those payments, however. After thousands of WWI veterans marched on the Capitol in the summer of 1932, occupied some buildings and built a camp on the National Mall, President Herbert Hoover ordered the Army to clear them out. Troops under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, including a tank unit, did exactly that.

Ideally, the current problem will be the last regarding unkept promises to veterans. First, Congress and the administration should do whatever is necessary to ensure that veterans get the health care they need. Then, before rushing into a needless war like that in Iraq, lawmakers and the president should estimate the long-term costs of its consequences for the soldiers whom they place in harm's way.