By Leslie James
All veterans deserve far better than most are currently receiving. Every year in November, we join together to celebrate Veterans Day, to honor those courageous men and women who paid the ultimate price for “our” freedom. So this year, how about we make a real difference by truly helping our veterans? It’s time to help give them a stable life after they come home. That means housing, jobs, retraining, counseling and access to every form of medical assistance.
In June 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill. This historic legislation provided veterans of the Second World War funds for college education, retraining, job assistance, loan guarantees for a home, farm or business, and unemployment insurance for up to 52 weeks. Today, we need to do better.
We can’t all be so self-inclined and proclaim that we are the “greatest nation on earth” when we have forgotten that freedom comes at the highest possible price—human life! No sacrifice is greater than when a person puts his or her life in harm’s way or makes the ultimate sacrifice so that we as Americans (and others) can live in peace and freedom.
After more than a decade at war, our returning heroes are facing massive challenges. Today, we are losing more (active and nonactive) members of the armed forces to suicide. Can you image this? More of our military are committing suicide every year than are dying on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Recent Department of Defense statistics show that since January 2001, a staggering 2,293 active-duty service members have taken their own lives, which exceeds America’s total casualty count in the war since it began. And it’s not only a phenomenon among American troops; it’s also happening among Canadian forces and those in the United Kingdom and our other coalition allies. The common threads are relationships, finances and alcohol and drug-related issues, all of which are underscored by post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another mounting problem—and it’s staggering—is the growing number of homeless vets. Returning heroes, many of whom have served this country with three or four tours of combat, are returning home to no jobs, no housing, little cash, little medical help (or hard-to-get medical help) and, as such, very little hope. Today, almost 700,000 veterans across America now call home a local street corner, a park or a patch of ground beneath a bridge. Is this the America you know? Is this an America to be proud of? And is this how we honor our military people for their service?
The first question that needs asking is this: “What is our government doing to help our veterans?” The answer seems pretty clear: certainly not enough!” So, where are the flag-waving veterans who are now politicians and who claim to be big supporters of our veterans? It seems, along with being totally disconnected from everyday Americans, that they are also oblivious to the plight of our courageous vets.
This has nothing to do with budgets, deficits or political partisanship and rhetoric. It has everything to do with honor, commitment and the strongest of moral obligations. America owes a huge debt—one that’s due to every member of the military. We cannot turn our backs on them. If Uncle Sam can’t honor this debt, then we should stop sending them off to war.
JUST ANOTHER DAY ON THE JOB
To serve our country in the armed forces is often thought of as one of the most patriotic, selfless acts there is. Our men and women in uniform put themselves in harm’s way every day.
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Here is an oxymoron. As reported on CBS national news on September 17, 2012, a wounded soldier got hooked on painkillers after he returned from the war, buying them from any drug dealer who would sell them to him. Because of his actions and addiction, he was discharged from the military—and as a result, he lost all access to his veteran’s benefits. Now I ask you: Who was the numskull that drafted such a policy, and what idiots approved it? How more ass-backwards could any policy initiative possibly be? This is not how we should be treating our wounded warriors!
Capitol Hill seems quite content to send our men and women into war, so how about providing for them when they return? Is it possible that our government, America’s Fortune 500 corporations and everyday citizens have simply grown bored and tired of the huge sacrifice these courageous individuals continue to make? Politicians are so gung ho about printing more money out of thin air to buy mortgage-backed securities. How about printing more money to fund the programs and services our returning vets need? Our military forces are an elite group of human beings. They are taught always to advance, never to retreat or turn their backs on America (or the world). And today, every American needs to do the same for them.
Recently I pulled up to a Fry’s Marketplace and saw a vet under a tree with a sign that read: “CAN YOU HELP A VET?” I pulled around and parked the car, opened my trunk and grabbed four bottles of water. Along with some money, I gave the water to him and apologized for the water not being very cold. He replied, “Thank you very much, sir. It’s certainly a lot colder than what I have in my backpack.” He was under a frigging tree in 112-degree Arizona heat—in the biggest country in the world. I have to wonder, is this really the best we can all do?
We rise and applaud them at sporting events, and we attach bumper stickers to our cars that say “Support Our Troops” … so how about making a huge difference in the lives of our veterans? No one person can solve the problem, but one person at a time can build an army, and we all know what an army can do. Trust me, one person can be an army, and one person can make a difference.
Listed below are local and national organizations that provide assistance to our vets through difficult times. I ask each of you who reads this piece to take a moment and make that all-important donation—whether it be $1 or $10—and when doing so, realize that freedom is never free, and that, as Americans, we can all make a meaningful difference!
Military Assistance Mission
Operation Home Front
Armed Services YMCA
National Military Family Organization
Fisher House Foundation
Homes for our Troops
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society