Below is the column I wrote for my Law School's paper, The Forum for its September issue. I might actually break off a blog from here and actually make a dedicated blog to vets issues since I only get 600 words per column and I'm sure I'll have more than 600 words worth of things to raise.
So, here it is:
Episode one of "The SITREP"
What happens when the cameras stop and the lights fade?
The cessation of US military operations in Iraq, on August 31 brought to a close a seven year ordeal, for the United States, Iraq, and their citizens. Over 4400 US armed services personnel died in combat operations. According to Iraq Body Count (www.iraqbodycount.org) roughly 97,000-106,000 Iraqi civilians died since the commencement of “Shock and Awe” in 2003.
After the politicians give their sound bytes, network anchors sign off, and pundits exchange heated and empty words, a post-war reality will set in. Military cuts. They came after the end of the major military campaigns of the 20th century. They will come again renewed in a reality of a weak American economy and the need to reallocate money to other sectors of society.
Service members will be released, to comply with new manning requirements in each military branch. It is not that they are unfit. Instead, it is the reality of personnel cuts. The highest performers are retained and the rest sent home with a severance check and a thank you for a job well done. Those facing separation will attend week-long class to prepare these individuals with the pending transition to civilian life. They will receive training on resume writing and interview skills, but the lingering question is whether it is sufficient.
Because there are service members who have only a high school diploma or GED but no further civilian education, whether or not they are able to relate their military skills to the civilian sector is essential. Most of their professional skills are limited to their military specialty or rating.
Disabled veterans, suffering from PTSD or physical disabilities have a stake in the social awareness of veterans in the post OIF/OEF world. Disability benefits do provide compensation to veterans with disabilities: but the higher the benefit, the greater the disability. Although eligible for money, they still have to pay for their health care and other living expenses. Not every veteran lives within driving distance to a VA Hospital. If the disability is severe enough, the veteran is unable to get to the hospital without assistance.
Without sufficient support at home, many of veterans may end up as their post-Vietnam brethren, either struggling with substance abuse problems or amongst the ranks of the homeless. The VA estimates 107,000 veterans are homeless at any night (www.nchv.org/background.cfm). Around 1/5th of the homeless in the United States are veterans. Shameful statistics considering many of these individuals gave loyal service to their nation.
Without the reminder of war to maintain interest in veterans, reservists and the active duty personnel, will the sensitivity and concern for this group continue? When the cameras stop and the lights fade will the current priority for veterans and their families recede to the social backburner?
What can be done to support veterans and to keep the issues that affect them squarely in the public’s eye as OIF/OEF fade into the pages of history?
Next month, “Lest We Forget, Part I” a look into the issues facing disabled veterans.