Win the Peace; Support the Troops

Bill Nelson
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Posted: Aug 25, 2011 12:01 AM
At a time when American deployed combat troop levels are going down, demands on support services are going up.  Here at USA Cares, a national military charity, requests for financial assistance have gone up 53 per cent since February.  This demand growth has been most evident in 3 often inter-related areas:  jobs, housing, and access to mental health treatment.

It may seem paradoxical that assistance demands are up, with more troops coming home.  First, of the 2 million deployed since 9/11, one quarter has been National Guard and Reservists.  Their unprecedented use in our first 21st century war has placed a huge and unplanned for, burden on these part time personnel.  When they return home, active duty pay stops and they are expected to return to the jobs they left behind.

Unfortunately, unemployment for these folks and recent veterans is over 13 per cent—4 points higher than the abysmal national average. Certain segments of our most recent veterans have a rate above 20 per cent.  USA Cares finds that job loss drives home loss—over one half of our monthly grant outlays go to housing issues—rent payments and eviction prevention.

Second, most military families put things “on hold” when a spouse is deployed.  It’s a common practice for families to avoid letting loved ones in combat hear “bad news” about family finances.  Thus, many of these issues come to the surface upon the service member’s return.  Now that we’re about to have a whole lots of troops come home, this deployed need phenomena will only increase—along with demands on government and private sector services.

Take PTSD and TBI for example.  Studies suggest 1 in 10 OIF/OEF troops suffer from it.  Studies also note that as many as 50 per cent of PTSD cases have not been diagnosed, much less treated.  A paucity of facilities and mental health personnel at VA/DOD (as documented in congressional reports) combine with economic/financial hardships to prevent many veterans from going to treatment.  For the past 30 months, USA Cares has worked to fund the household expenses of over 500 OIF/OEF veterans so they can attend residential PTSD rehabilitation—at a cost of $880,000.

USA Cares isn’t the only military charity “under fire” from increasing volleys of demand.  Specializing in filling in the gaps between government programs/benefits, we’ve had to increase our requests for funding support to meet emergent needs for food, housing, and job support.  Declines in DOD/VA budgets coming at a time of troop return will similarly increase the stress on support services.  If government support is going to go down, then existing gaps will widen and private sector help will have to go up.  There are 260,000 unemployed OIF/OEF veterans today, and the number of their ranks who are homeless—or are financially enroute to being homeless, is also going up.

So, it’s becoming an “up/down” world.  Tyrants are going down across the Middle East while hopes for more democratic governments to replace them go up.  The need for combat troops overseas goes down, but the support demands triggered by their return goes up.  USA Cares, like many military charities, understands this dynamic—but we’re not watching it unfold from the sidelines—we are in the “trenches” every day helping military families.

I encourage Americans of every political stripe to join with us.  Donate time as a volunteer at a VA hospital or clinic.  Donate dollars to those non-profits who have high impact on soldiers’ lives.  Thank them for their service in the most meaningful way possible—get involved in your community with the military families around you-let them know you really do appreciate their sacrifices on our behalf.

That way, the next time we ask them to go in harm’s way, they’ll remember we care.  USA Cares.     

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