On Wednesday, February 1st, the Obama Administration announced that the last of U.S. Armed Forces will be removed from combat roles in Afghanistan as early as mid-2013, more than a year ahead of schedule.This move follows the Administration’s removal of the majority of combat troops from Iraq late last year.
But as their mission ends abroad, our soldiers are returning home to face the daunting proposition of finding jobs in an economy still struggling to gain firm footing. According to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2010 Veterans between the ages of 18 and 34 faced worse prospects for employment than non-Veterans of the same age. Moreover, within the 18 to 24 year old demographic, the Veteran unemployment rate reached 20 percent.
Without a job, and having lost not only their purpose in the war, but also the support and companionship of their fellow soldiers, many Veterans are finding themselves not only alone and unemployed, but sick. Beyond the numerous physical injuries our Veterans suffered in the war, the Veterans Administration estimates that between 11 percent and 20 percent of the troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The data suggests that this combination of unemployment and illness has created a terrifying public health crisis in our Veteran population.
According to an October 2011 report from the Center of New American Security, from 2005 to 2010, Veterans of the United States Armed Forces took their own lives at a rate of approximately one every 36 hours. Disturbingly, this trend appears to be increasing, as recently the Veterans Administration estimated that a Veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes, equaling approximately 18 deaths per day. That equates to over 6500 Veteran deaths a year, more than two and half times as many soldiers who died in Pearl Harbor. Moreover, despite the fact that only 1 percent of Americans have served in the military, Veterans represent 20 percent of suicides annually in the United States.
At the Federal level, the President and Congress have responded to these statistics by making numerous calls for legislation to provide funding for appropriate levels of Veteran medical care, and tax incentives for employers who offer employment opportunities to our Veterans.
And while Federal efforts are to be commended, the question must continue to be posed, are we doing enough at the local level for our Veterans? This is not a mission appropriately relegated to once a year Veterans Day ceremonies, or Fourth of July parades. As a U.S. President once stated in appreciation of our Veterans' sacrifice, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
There are many opportunities locally for individuals to volunteer and provide employment opportunities, personal appreciation, and/or financial support to our Veterans. A great place to start is to contact the Volunteer Services Office, at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital, at (650) 858-3903. Another organization locally, that provides both job search assistance and service dogs to
Veterans, is Project Hired, a non-profit located in San Jose, that can be contacted at 1 (888) 520-4572.
Finally, this Sunday, from 9:30am to 12:30pm, at the Menlo Park Farmers' market, tube socks and Valentines are being collected for our Veterans, who are being treated locally at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration Hospital. The Farmers' Market is located at Chestnut Street and Menlo Avenue. While the event has been organized by the Menlo Park Democrats, people of all political affiliations are invited and encouraged to participate. In addition to expressing your love for someone close to you heart this Valentines Day, please consider expressing your appreciation with Valentines for our Veterans.
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