General George S. Patton once said, “The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The Soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.”
But what happens once it’s time for that soldier to return home? We may meet him gleefully with cameras rolling at the airport as he greets his family for the first time in months. We may write articles and tales of his heroism in the local paper. We may name an event or even a building after him, in honor of his sacrifice. But where are we when he truly goes home? We’re not there in the middle of the night when all he can hear is gunfire and the screech of mortars. We’re not there when he can’t find a job because his skills aren’t in demand. We certainly aren’t there when he goes to the VA to get treated for a medical condition.
For all the fuss that politicians love to make about honoring our veterans, in reality this is just one more case in string of empty promises.
In fact, our nation’s veterans get treated like absolute dirt. Veterans of our most recent conflicts haven’t been subjected to the disgusting treatment that our Vietnam veterans were, but they might as well be, for what we as a nation are doing to them is almost more horrifying.
The fact of the matter is, our men and women in uniform have sacrificed so much to defend the freedoms we hold dear, that caring for them once they return home should be a top priority.
1. 22 veterans per day die of suicide.
This is possibly the most egregious disservice we have done to our veterans according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Three out of five veterans who died by suicide were diagnosed as having a mental health condition.” Not only do we lose 22 veterans per day to suicide, veterans comprise a shocking 20% of all US suicides. Even worse, the deplorable state of the Veteran’s Administration has made getting treatment for vets who admit they need help far more difficult than it should be. Look no further than the 2015 case of Jerry Serrato, a veteran who was denied PTSD status and later took the life of a VA doctor as well as his own. Tragedies like these can be avoided.
So what do we do? First, the VA needs to be overhauled. The Veteran’s Administration is possibly the greatest example of the overreaching bureaucracy and government ineffectuality that is plaguing this country, and we have left our veterans to drown in it for far too long. The entire system needs to be gutted. In order to rectify the situation, the VA needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. New protocols, procedures, equipment and personnel will all be necessary to give our veterans the level of care they deserve. Sure, this will cost money, a lot of it. However, if there is one instance where the U.S. should increase spending, it’s on taking care of our veterans.
However the onus is not just on the federal government to take care of our heroes. It’s a responsibility we all share. Ideas like the Veterans VIP Priority Program, which allows veterans to obtain primary or mental health care within 24 hours of first contact are exactly the kind of community support needed to prevent senseless tragedies like that of Jerry Serrato.
2. Veteran unemployment is at an all-time high
The Rand Corporation reports that in 2011 as many as 29% of veterans ages 18-24 were jobless. This number is beyond unacceptable, and while it has dropped over the past five years, the fact of the matter is veterans are 3.4% more likely to be jobless than their peers. Moreover, of the 2.8 million post-9/11 veterans, over 200,000 are without jobs, a rate higher than any other group of veterans in US history.
The possible reasons for higher jobless rates among veterans are varied, including prejudice as well as medical issues, but the fact is we as a nation are not setting them up for success. For example, a 24 year old veteran who drove MRAP heavy trucks in combat in Afghanistan can’t get a job as a truck driver without taking a civilian CDL course. Similarly, a Navy Corpsman (medic) with combat medical experience cannot become a paramedic without undergoing the same exact courses required for an unexperienced civilian. Such courses cost thousands of dollars, yet we still require candidates who have arguably the best experience in the world to pay out of pocket to learn things they already know.
If Washington really cared about our veterans, they’d cut ridiculous requirements for veterans such as these, and focus on actually helping to reintegrate them into the workforce.
3. Benefits promised to veterans are being snatched away
Benefits afforded by the G.I. Bill oftentimes are the difference between a successful post-service career and a life full of hardship for our veterans. There was a time when the G.I. Bill gave veterans the opportunity to attend college who otherwise would not have had the chance. The Bill used to provide quality healthcare to those who couldn’t afford it. Even now, after Americans have seen the kinds of sacrifices made by our servicemen and women, politicians are trying to cut the G.I. Bill. The same benefits that millions of veterans have relied upon for decades is on the chopping block.
When it comes to wasting taxpayer money on things that don’t matter, such as a $750,000 soccer field for Guantanamo Bay detainees, Washington D.C. doesn’t blink an eye; yet they can’t seem to find it in the budget to give benefits to those who sacrificed so much to preserve this country and the freedoms we hold dear. That’s quite a “thank you.”
There’s a very simple solution to this problem: don’t touch the G.I. Bill. Instead of spending $20 million to pay for Indonesians to get master’s degrees, maybe we could find it in the national wallet to help our heroes pay for their food and medical bills. Call me crazy, but I don’t want to live in a country that will spend money on anything and everything except on supporting those who have so selflessly supported us.