Yesterday, Americans celebrated Memorial Day. Old Glory blew in the breeze. Grill covers were removed. Hot dogs and hamburgers were char-broiled. Beer was consumed. Cars and mattresses were purchased. And those who have perished, in service to this nation, were remembered.
Those things are all fine and dandy. But why not do something better? The best way to honor those who have fallen is to support those who haven’t.
Perhaps,..a Call for a National Strategy on Veterans? An all-encompassing one is needed, if we are to get our service members back on track to becoming members of civilian society. In the coming weeks, we will discuss what the issues are. And, there are many! There are steps we can take, both individually and politically, to support our returning veterans. But we, first, have to know what we are up against.
Here are startling statistics, as reported by the Center for American Progress:
** Nearly 1 in 7 homeless adults are veterans.
** 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness.
** 30.29% of veterans, aged 18-24, were unemployed as of 2011.
** $31 Million of SNAP/food stamps (2008) were spent at military commissaries.
** 1.2 million veterans used mental health services in 2010.
As if those numbers are not shocking enough, Democracy Now! reports that military vets (including those wounded in service) are being kicked out, due to misconduct. This causes them to lose medical care and benefits for life. Young men and women, returning from the horrors of war, find themselves unable to cope. Many have underlying health conditions, including Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Instead of providing help, they are given a bad discharge, and alienated even from the brothers in arms that they fought and died with.
In another article, the growing epidemic of military suicide, among other things, is addressed. Every day, in America, 18 veterans are committing suicide. 17% of Afghanistan combat vets are on psychotropic medication. 1/3 of female service members are sexually assaulted. From Defense Secretary,Leon Panetta, “Despite the increased efforts, the increased attention, the trends continue to move in a troubling and tragic direction.”
As a member of a military family, I am grateful for those who “support the troops”. I am honored to be among the families who have sacrificed. I have, in years past, humbly accepted the love and support of friends, family, and strangers.
I am, also, all too aware of the difficulties such families face. PTSD is not an acronym to me. The psychotropic drugs, the therapy…are all too real.
We, as a nation, accept the sacrifice…physical, spiritual, or mental…of our young men and women. We take them from their families. We spend millions training them for combat. We place them in unimaginable situations, and we ask them to do unimaginable things.
Isn’t it time we do more than pay them lip service?
The most important thing we can do is provide meaningful employment opportunities. We must stop looking at the hiring of military veterans as charity. These men and women have any number of combat skills that translate well in the civilian world. VetJobs is an excellent resource that we can pass along to those men and women still seeking work.
Equally important is making sure our veterans are receiving necessary medical and mental health care. The Wounded Warrior Project is a wonderful program that brings much-needed attention to the needs of returning vets with physical and/or mental health issues. The project provides a myriad of services for returning veterans, through donations and fundraisers. Visit their website to see how you can help.
Finally, we must not forget the spouses and families. They are often invisible in discussing issues concerning veteran’s affairs. If we are to successfully integrate these warriors back into civilian society, spouses and families must also have support. Learning to live with an entirely different person is no easy task, let me tell you. I have found that Military OneSource provides invaluable talk therapy for spouses adjusting to their new unfamiliar circumstances. The National Military Family Association is a wonderful resource for financial concerns. There are opportunities to donate to both these wonderful organizations and information can be located on their websites.
Supporting our troops isn’t simply a ribbon. It would be wonderful if it was. Our brave men and women need, and deserve, our support. Sure, holidays are great. They deserve those, too. But our country can do so much better.
Take a look at the links. Make a contribution. Donate your time. Put pressure on your representatives.
That is supporting our troops.