On Sunday as America observed Veterans Day, our longest war — the Afghanistan conflict that started in 2001 — claimed more casualties including a U.S. soldier killed by an improvised explosive device. That brought to 2,151 the number of Americans killed in that war. Since 9/11/01, nearly three million veterans have left military service.
We should all be deeply grateful for the men and women who have had a part in preserving and defending our priceless freedoms. But surely, much more is due our veterans, beginning with the obligations owed by our government.
On that point, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki has led efforts that are making a dent in this daunting problem. There were an estimated 76,000 homeless veterans on any given night in 2009 when Shinseki promised to end this inexcusable state of affairs. Give him credit: The number of homeless veterans dropped to 67,497 between 2010 and 2011. And it is expected to fall to less than 60,000 this year.
The government has committed billions to this effort: $9.5 billion in 2011 and 2012 budgets with an additional $11.9 billion proposed for the next two years for a total of $21.5 billion by September 2014, the target date for ending veteran homelessness. This laudable program came about as the result of bipartisan cooperation, something almost as rare as snow in July. There’s a link on the VA website for ways to help get the word out on help for those homeless veterans.
In his Veterans Day message, Shinseki said there are 22 million American veterans today, pointing out that in the past 11 years “the men and women of our armed forces have stood watch in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Europe, Korea and more than 150 other countries around the globe.” What a record. He said upwards of 1.5 million veterans served in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa combat theaters.
Along with homelessness, there are other troubles facing many veterans. A poll by Concerned Veterans for America, cited by Politico.com, found that military voters ranked unemployment as the overriding issue for them and their families. Twenty-eight percent listed the need to find jobs after leaving the service as the biggest issue — 10 points higher than the next biggest issue which was having access to care for injuries related to military service (18 percent). Thus, 34 percent of military veterans cited the economy as the major issue, followed by deficit spending at 21 percent. Forty-one percent of these men and women who have served their country ranked the economy as the greatest threat to our national security.
There are many ways for us citizens to help our veterans, ranging from making contributions to legitimate organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and Wounded Warriors or, if you are a business owner, by employing a veteran. Please do what you can.