Veterans

Many Americans have given up the time of their life that would traditionally be consumed with all-nighters and midterms. They are a community within this nation that has volunteered to serve a higher purpose: their fellow citizens. Many times, they come back changed, the matured product of a battle not of their choosing. But they have sweated, they have bled, and many have given up their lives in defense of a dream bigger than themselves – freedom from fear.

The ranks of men and women who have served in uniform continues to grow as new recruits are shipped overseas. After years battle-weariness, many come home with the wounds of war, some physical and many emotional. And we must ask what awaits those veteran soldiers when they return to the people and the land that they left to defend? They come home to fear – the very reason they fought in the first place. But it is not the fear of enemy soldiers or the fear of death. When they return, it is the fear of whether they will be able to find a job. It is the fear of whether they will be able to pay their bills. It is the fear of loneliness, and tortured memories, and the inability to connect with their friends and families.

More than in past wars, many of our troops are coming home alive from the conflict in the Middle East. They return home crippled by prolonged physical and mental injuries from roadside bombs, and the frustration of fighting an invisible enemy. Those coming home can expect neither quick or cheap treatment, recovery or retraining. In September of last year, the number of veterans seeking help was more than 185,000 of the 1.4 million that had been deployed – more than 52,000 for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder alone.

Many veterans advocates explain the frustration that veterans have: “The wounded and their families no longer trust that the government will take care of them the way they thought they’d be taken care of.”

The soldiers that we must not forget are the men who returned from battle decades ago, yet still struggle with the same conditions that soldiers have faced since the beginning of time. We should not forget the struggle and sacrifice that American soldiers made during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, and Kosovo – not to mention the many smaller conflicts that were necessary to maintain the peace in this world.

We also have an obligation to those men and women who have earned their benefit of higher education. The 21st Century G.I. Bill was signed into law in 2008 and it would guarantee up to $90,000 to all soldiers serving three-years on active duty, and an equitable benefit to soldiers serving less than the three-year term. It is now available to all soldiers – active duty veterans, reservists, and the National Guard. What is more, it gives returning veterans more options in the pursuit of higher education and it is now transferable to their children. The next step is to continue encouraging our fighting men and women to take up the battle for knowledge long after they have fought the battle for freedom. We must prepare them for peace, because the greatest warrior trains for war and hopes for peace.