Our nation welcomed home the last remaining troops from Iraq just before the new year and this week marks the 9th anniversary of the the Iraq War. Many service men and women were reunited with their families and will be safe from the dangers of combat. But many others will be deployed to Afghanistan. We must remember that the sacrifices our service members make stretch far beyond the battlefield. Our nation has a long road ahead of us to ensure today’s generation of veterans have access to the services and care they need to heal the wounds of war.
With a 24-hour news cycle and the emergence of social media, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been widely discussed and has sparked dialogue within a wide variety of communities. Public awareness about the realities of combat, and common issues returning veterans face, such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury is at an all time high.
Political leaders, pushed by the public’s determination that veterans and their families who sacrifice so much deserve our support, have transformed programs and policies to address the distinct and urgent needs of veterans, troops and their families. Government agencies, corporations, foundations and individuals have funneled billions of dollars to organizations with the expertise and capacity to care for troops and veterans. Established agencies have begun to see the impact of the new landscape and develop programs specifically tailored for the needs of today’s warriors and their families. New organizations have sprouted across the nation to meet the needs of troops, veterans and their families within their communities.
Despite a surge in support for our service members and their families, veterans continue to suffer. As VA Secretary Shinseki often says, veterans lead the nation in suicide, homelessness, depression, substance abuse, and face high unemployment rates. Vietnam veterans who were neglected after their service continue to die on the streets; Gulf War veterans continue to fight the battle with Gulf War Syndrome; and over a million veterans from every generation still wait for the disability benefits and healthcare they rely on. We have learned that there are still too many gaps in services, gaps in capacity, access and in knowledge.
We cannot allow a loss of funding, or a decline in public interest, or even the end of the current wars to prevent us from carrying out our mission to serve those who put their lives on the line. The trauma, obstacles and unique experiences our nation’s service members face cannot be switched off. Addressing these needs requires a long-term commitment. Supporting organizations that address the comprehensive need of veterans is a way to truly “support our troops and veterans” in deeds, not words. With so many men and women returning from service, we need comprehensive and accessible programs and services now more than ever.