It is inspiring to read of the magnificent work that nonprofit organizations are doing the length and breadth of this great country to ease the difficulties that so many returning veterans experience. Our servicemen and servicewomen need and deserve the very best we can give them in order to return to take their rightful place as proud citizens of this nation. Too often veterans – the veterans of Vietnam, and now the veterans of Iraq and of Afghanistan – have faced the twin spectres of homelessness and prison. These men and women are true American heroes; they have been deployed to countries far from our own; they have fought for our precious values of freedom and democracy; they have returned, sometimes with shattered limbs and shattered minds, to a nation too eager to forget them and their families. Only now it seems can we see the truly remarkable work of the nonprofit organizations which are doing so much to rebuild lives and minds and careers.
The Veteran Affairs Department in Washington should be applauded for finally realizing that the key to help veterans readjust to civilian life and to avoid unemployment, family break up, and, in the worst recession in living memory, debt, is to trust and support the community-based services which are epitomized by the one in Utica, NY. But it needs to do more. Much more. Before it is too late.
The failure of Congress to pass a bill that would have given the Veterans’ Association an extra $50 billion to help the problem of homelessness is an insult to our brave, heroic servicemen and women. And it follows that the next Congress must achieve more than its predecessor. For – make no mistake – the returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will increase in number. These are young men and women who are still in the prime of life, despite the horrors they have witnessed and the brutalities they have seen. They are our future too, if nurtured properly, and given help to rejoin society and become, once again, their better selves, their true American selves, our heroes and heroines.
We are happy enough to send them to any corner of the globe where our values need to be defended or promulgated. We share in their triumphs. We must be just as happy to see them return. Happy to give them the help they so desperately need.
Anyone who has not been deployed cannot imagine the devastation that modern combat can wreak on the human mind and spirit. The stamina, the desperation, the sheer courage – these qualities can be used well by a society that does the right thing by its heroes. We must learn from programs like the one at Utica. We must pressurize Congress to make more money available to the VA. We must do better. We must do better by our veterans. For them. And for us. And for America.