Remember the Fourth by Celebrating Our Veterans

Posted: Jul 01, 2011 12:01 AM

The President’s announcement of the start of Afghanistan troop withdrawals marks a new phase in the War on Terror.  No group of Americans will be happier about the reduction of forces in harm’s way than our service members and their families. 

And whether or not one agrees with the reasons for, or implications of, the withdrawal, all Americans can rejoice in the return of our soldiers and Marines from combat.  To be sure, they are not all coming home at once, and many thousands remain on the front lines—but the President’s decision will mark an important milestone and, perhaps, create an image in the minds of many Americans that soon, all the troops will be home.

It’s been said over the last several years that “the military is at war, and Americans are at the mall”—a rather trite way of stating that far-off wars tend to escape the public’s attention—especially when the media only covers the conflict when there are a lot of American deaths. 

There have been a lot of casualties, both visible and invisible wounds to thousands of service men and women.  The quality of their care post-injury is a true measure of the commitment of our nation to honor them and their sacrifice on behalf of us all.  The First Lady has done a commendable job in raising public awareness of what military families endure—her Joining Forces program is a stellar concept that rallies public support for our military and veterans alike.  

But is that it? 

They all come home, we take care of the wounded, and that’s that? 

Unfortunately, no. 

The return of thousands of service members to the U.S. will create a tsunami of demand upon both public and private sector service providers.  Those remaining on active duty face a small pay raise, reduced operating budgets, and reductions in end strength.  National Guard and Reserve personnel who deactivate and demobilize (100,000 this year) do so in the face of sky high unemployment numbers (over 20% in some groups) and the worst housing situation in decades. 

It is estimated that 155,000 veterans will leave the service this year and seek civilian jobs—many will need training in civilian skills before they are employable above minimum wage.

At USA Cares, a national military charity that provides financial and employment assistance to post 9/11 veterans and active duty, demand is already on the rise.  The need for financial assistance to enable PTSD rehab attendance is approaching $1 million—with thousands of cases estimated as yet undiagnosed. 

Lack of employment is now the number one reason military families are losing their homes to foreclosure—the USA Cares Jobs For Vets program (and many others both federal, state, and private) is striving to save homes while matching up vets with jobs.  The return of thousands from deployment will only serve to heighten the demand on these high need, high stress areas.

So, how can America “win the battle, but lose the war”—simply by assuming that the start of the Afghanistan withdrawal signals the end of the need for the public to be concerned about our troops—and their families. 

We have over 100,000 veterans from past wars homeless today—many with medical and mental issues undiagnosed and untreated until it was too late.  The percentage of that awful statistic that comes from the current war is, sadly, growing.

To truly “win the war”, Americans need to stay informed and involved—Joining Forces is a good example of a way to participate.  Supporting private sector non-profits who have reliably served our military whenever and wherever government programs fell short is another worthy avenue of activity.   

Let’s not think the start of the drawdown is the end of our commitment to our troops.  When the parades are over and the troops go home, the time to truly honor our national commitment to them begins.  As we gratefully start to welcome them home during this 10th Anniversary year of 9/11, let’s redouble our efforts to show them how much we appreciate their service and their families’ sacrifices by making very sure that our nation’s commitments to their care and well-being are fully met. 

In the end, as the famous quote goes, “The character of a nation is shown by the way it treats its veterans”.

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