For our veterans, life after war requires assimilation into a culture that understands very little about them and their service.
On September 11, 2001 our nation was rocked by the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil. It was planned, coordinated, precisely executed and cost thousand theirs lives and significantly altered the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. October 7, 2001 marked the allied invasion of Afghanistan, and two years later we invaded the sovereign country of Iraq. For more than 13 years, America’s men and woman have voluntarily endured the burden of war.
Less than one percent have raised their right hand and sworn the oath. These brave men and woman have sworn to defend our nation against all enemies foreign and domestic. Between 2001 and 2011 the Army alone deployed 1.5 million Soldiers. Approximately 94,000 Soldiers had deployed for 36 months or longer as of December 2011. Similarly, 10,500 Marines have deployed for at least 36 months along with nearly 16,000 Airman and about 9,500 Sailors. Almost 14 years later, and we are still supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tonight over 6,ooo brave men and woman will not sit down to dinner with their families. They will not see their sons and daughters graduate from high school, graduate college, get married, or celebrate any more life events. These brave souls paid the ultimate sacrifice; they gave all. Voluntarily, they stood the watch on foreign soil, fought an enemy whose hate burned red hot. In many instances, they died alone on the battlefield. Far away from the family and friends who fervently hoped their loved one would come home.
Personally, I have seen first hand the ravages of war. Flag-draped caskets were loaded onto C-130s as I stood at attention. All I can remember is thinking about their families, the children they never knew, the life events they would never experience. As the sound of taps poured out the loudspeakers, I was very thankful it was not me.
The fact is we cannot rewrite history and bring these brave men and woman back. We can, however, help ease the burden of the 44,000 who survived and are transitioning back into civilian life. As business leaders, community leaders, and fellow Americans we owe them a debt of gratitude. Our nation as a whole owes them a smooth transition. In order to help ease their transition, we should keep the following in mind.
The Growing Divide
Today fewer Americans are directly connected to the military. Adults under the age of 50 are less likely to have immediate family members who have served. Less than a third of adults age 18-29 had a family member who served. While many Americans report they are proud (87 percent) of our warriors the facts seem to support a growing cognitive dissonance. Approximately 47 percent of those without familial ties to the military have never reached out to help a veteran or their family.
Re-entry Is Not That Easy
Service members have different experiences. Some of my buddies have carried their dead brothers and sisters off the battlefield. In some instances, they picked up the pieces of their brothers and sisters and placed them into body bags. Others have to live with the images of their comrades burned beyond recognition. Over 44,000 have to deal with their injuries. For those that experience psychological trauma the ease of re-entry drops from 82 percent to 56 percent. The trend is true of service members who report significant emotional experiences as well. Speaking from personal experience, each and every deployment is a great emotional experience. 29 percent of post 9-11 veterans report service-connected disabilities.
They Experience Higher Unemployment
Post 9-11 veteran unemployment is approximately 7.2 percent. On average, a larger number of veterans are unemployed compared to the civilian population. Despite the aid of transition assistance programs finding adequate work, post-military is a challenge for many. Veterans are often highly skilled individuals, but fewer and fewer people understand their value. Remember the growing divide?
For our veterans, the stress does not subside once they leave the battlefield. For many, it takes on a new form. Now, they have to assimilate into a culture that understands very little about them and their service. A society that has no idea what it’s like to pick up your battle buddy whose body is strewn across the battlefield. Neighbors that have never born the burden of telling moms, dads, sons, and daughters their loved ones were not coming home.
So on top of everything else all veterans are staring a new form of PTSD in the face. My challenge to each and every one of you is this! What WILL you do to help ease the burden?
Photo: Flickr/Sean Salazar