Ideas — #MondayMemo: Are We Failing Our Vets?

Summary:

Despite recent scandals, there have been strong public and private initiatives to care for American veterans. This work is by no means done, and there are plenty of opportunities for continued progress.

Background:

Roughly twice a year — Memorial Day and Veterans Day — the nation pauses to show gratitude for American veterans. These commemorations typically infuse the topic of veterans’ affairs into the mainstream for a short while before it fades once again to the backburner of overlooked policy problems.

However, there is a near-universal perception that the federal government is not doing enough to assist former service members in adjusting to civilian life and overcoming residual effects of war. To thoroughly address its shortcomings, the government must take stock of what works and what doesn’t for our veterans.

The most visible failure ofthe government for veterans in recent years was the 2014 Veterans Affairs Scandal which forced out then-Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki. All veterans are given access to the VA hospital and healthcare system, which provides medical care to all veterans who register. The 2014 scandal revolved around the practices of the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona which were shown to include false record-keeping and improper delays in administering care.

This situation was ultimately rectified with the ouster of multiple Obama Administration officials. However, later reports suggest that there were relatively few firings and not enough has been done to prevent future catastrophes like this.

A related but less noticed issue related to veterans’ mental health. Study after study shows alarming statistics on mental health and suicides. A large proportion of veterans suffer from either a traumatic brain injury (a physical injury to the brain) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (any psychological issue that stems from memory of traumatic events). Research conducted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America shows only 16 percent of IAVA members believe troops receive appropriate care for mental health injuries. The same report reveals that 65 percent of IAVA members know a veteran who has attempted suicide.

These struggles are often unseen and left untreated. If they are treated, the road to recovery is long and difficult. Thankfully, there are several organizations carrying out good work to tackle this issue. Veterans’ charities regularly raise money to provide therapeutic service to veterans, through sports, art, or service animals.

Possibly the hardest challenge for veterans is is the one farthest from the battlefield in both space and time. Transitioning to civilian life is a challenge often overlooked by non-veterans who don’t understand the wide gulf between the life of a soldier and of an ordinary citizen. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has been a strong answer to this problem: it provides funding for education and training for all service members who were active for 90 days anytime since September 10, 2001.

Though, for many veterans, acquiring a degree or certification is not difficult in comparison to adjusting to the day-to-day life of an everyday American. Perhaps this challenge will never quite be solved, since these men and women are anything but everyday Americans, but rather, they are the very best of us. Many organizations and businesses recognize this fact and have realized and pursued the talents and skills of veterans.

Recommendation

There may never be a holistic policy solution to the needs of veterans of recent wars. However, it is important to understand that veterans did not simply fight on behalf of the government, they fought for all of us. Private businesses and non-profits should continue their innovative endeavors to serve veterans. The government can be a useful mechanism in funding and scaling the most effective of these efforts, especially as more troops continue to come home.

Most of all, let us never forget the courage and sacrifice of these patriots. If we as a nation are fortunate, a few of them will continue their service and volunteer to represent us at all levels of government. Society should undoubtedly support this trend as seen in the recent midterm elections. Their continued sense of sacrifice is a blessing to us all.



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