Today millions of Americans will join together to celebrate Veterans Day. This contemporary American holiday grew out of Armistice Day and commemorates the ending of World War I on November 11th, 1919. As we remember this day, when the nations of the world agreed to lay down their weapons and begin the long project of building peace, we as a country must turn our attention to the struggles that confront our veterans after our wars are over.
As President Obama noted in his Veterans Day address yesterday, “Today marks the first time in nearly a decade that our American troops are not fighting, are not dying in Iraq.” Indeed, as the war in Iraq ends and the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, over a million veterans are coming home and facing the challenges that confront them in the U.S. President Obama continued, “No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their heads, or the care they have earned when they come home.” Sadly, today too many veterans have to fight for exactly those things.
For much of the past several years unemployment in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has far outpaced the general unemployment rate. President Obama and the 112th Congress made helping veteran’s find work a top priority and reports from earlier this fall found a steadily increasing employment rate. However many veterans, especially women returning from war, continue to struggle to find a job.
Although Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Eric Shinseki, has said that his personal goal is to bring homelessness in veterans to zero, this remains a persistent and serious problem. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veteran’s 23% of the homeless population is veterans, and a full third of the adult male homeless population has served in the military. Many of these veteran’s suffer from severe mental illness and substance abuse; nearly fifty years since the Vietnam War ended, 47% of homeless veterans are still suffering from its trauma.
Finally, while there are many concerns about veteran’s health care, perhaps the most significant (highlighted by the recent election of Tammy Duckworth to Congress) is the number of veterans returning with serious disabilities. Thousands of veterans are returning to find a country that is largely inaccessible to their new needs and restrictions. Moreover, veterans make up one of the largest group of people with disabilities who continue to travel abroad. Because of this, veterans groups (including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans) have become leading voices in the call for ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a UN treaty that would require accommodations for people with disabilities around the world. The U.S. has signed this treaty but has yet to ratify it, a step that would help ensure the ability of veterans to work and travel abroad.
President Obama said in his speech yesterday, “No ceremony or parade, no hug or handshake would ever be enough to truly honor your service.” The health and safety of America’s veterans require your action. Tell the Senate to ratify the Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities and support our veterans. We are finally in the process of bringing our troops home – it is time that we give them the full support they need once they are here.
Image Courtesy of Mother Jones