The United States counts freedom and the defense of our freedom among our founding principles. Our military, and therefore our veterans, has borne the greatest burden in defending the freedoms we each enjoy.
These men and women have been called, drafted or have volunteered to make major commitments in service to our country. They and their families have made great sacrifices.
And the U.S. government has made numerous commitments to service members and veterans, including health care, education, pensions, disability compensation and rehabilitation, and transition from active duty, among others.
Today, veterans represent widely disparate backgrounds, experiences and needs. They have served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the war on terror. Skill sets, deployments and even the concept of the “battlefield” differ. New technologies mean people with life-threatening injuries can be saved, decreasing the number of deaths while increasing the number of those returning with very complex physical, mental and emotional needs.
Although our military’s needs have radically changed and continue to evolve, we remain responsible for meeting each veteran’s needs.
President Barack Obama recently made his 23rd visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His message has always been brief and clear: “Thank you for what you’ve done. I appreciate your sacrifice, and the country is indebted to you.” Yes. We are.
Obama’s aides address questions and deal with issues such as retiring from active duty. That process is long, complicated and frustrating. The president’s aides can only help a few. We must streamline this and other processes.
Repeated failure to deliver on commitments, often health care-related, greatly worsen already difficult situations. Not adequately addressing mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder has created instances of severe trauma for individuals, families, workplaces and communities.
When large-scale issues become well known, Congress members are quick to talk about major changes and sometimes pass substantive legislation. However, often legislation isn’t completely funded and attention spans are short.
Bouncing from one major problem to the next without a comprehensive, fully funded plan isn’t productive and is disrespectful to veterans. Holding our government responsible for delivering on promises made — just as these veterans delivered on their commitments — is critical.
Example: Recently, California National Guard members were required to repay enlistment bonuses they received in error more than 10 years ago. Only when this situation triggered extreme outrage did the secretary of defense halt the practice. It was always wrong. We must demand greater accountability.
High suicide rates, depression and homelessness clearly demonstrate that veterans are not receiving the help they were promised, need and deserve.
We each have an obligation to push on veterans’ behalf for ready and local access to comprehensive care (physical, mental and emotional), education and/or training, assistance in transitioning to private lives, housing and appropriate employment.
It is often local organizations like Kansas City’s Veterans Community Project, which is building tiny homes to create a Veterans Village, that exemplify the type of grass-roots efforts able to greatly improve veteran’s lives. Founded and led by veterans, they are determined to achieve long-term impact for veterans and their families.
We are each able to support local efforts to help veterans who have sacrificed so much for us and our country. We will benefit from their ability to define and realize their purpose and become contributing members of families, organizations and communities.
It always comes down to people helping people.
Lisa Hays of Independence operates her own business intelligence firm, A Fresh Perspective LLC. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.