Too often, America has made promises — to first responders, to soldiers, to government workers — that it no longer finds convenient to stand behind.

Is America a country that keeps its promises?

That’s what I found myself wondering during the long months when Congress was refusing to pass a bill that would take care of the health needs of 9/11 first responders. They suited up for America, and they walked in to flaming wreckage for us, with the understanding that we’d be there to take care of them if they were hurt saving our lives.

Too many of us were willing to turn our backs on those who served. In the end, the first responder health care bill had to be slimmed down because the very people who had voted for expensive government for decades said that government was now too expensive. Something was done, but not everything we’d set out to do.

So I’m still asking: Is America a country that keeps its promises?

That question is about to be asked more loudly: An increasing number of soldiers are coming home from our wars in drastic need of medical care, especially mental health care. Soldiers have had a hard enough time getting the government to provide the surgeries, physical rehabilitation and doctors visits promised for their bodily pains. Addressing their mental health has been even harder.

Perhaps that’s why, from 2001-10, there have been more than 2,100 suicides in the military. That’s triple the number of troops who have died in Afghanistan and half of all U.S. deaths in Iraq. As of 2008 some 1,000 suicide attempts were reported per month at VA facilities.

Many of our warriors, who fought and bled for us, are asking for help. What they’re getting is anti-depressants. To treat our veterans and soldiers appropriately means we have to hire therapists — who are more expensive than pills. Many people in this country don’t see military spending of any kind as a priority. But our soldiers are asking for help, and more and more veterans are coming home in need of real treatment.

We promised to take care of them. Now that we’re in a budget crunch, are we a nation that keeps its promises?

Another test is upon is. From New York to California, lawmakers are asking if there’s a way to pull back the pensions and benefits of government workers.

This absolutely has to be done for new hires. We simply cannot function as a dynamic society with a strong economy while offering such generous pension deals. We must find another solution.

But many people are wondering if we can go further than that and roll back the pensions of government employees who are already vested, who have already put in a lifetime of service to this country with the understanding that America would stand behind its contracts.

For many politicians, doing anything to hurt unions is a good thing. But does that include America breaking its word?

Too often in the last few decades America has made promises — to first responders, to soldiers, to government workers — that it no longer finds convenient to stand behind. Keeping our promises is expensive, and difficult. It will require us to make sacrifices.

I say that America’s word should be its bond. Better than gold. Honesty is the right policy. But in tough times it may not be the most popular. Our national character is on the line.

Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media in Canandaigua, N.Y. Read his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.