One of my former clients, a veteran with disabilities, is about to start the biggest job of his life.
This is the best employment news I’ve heard in a long time. And it took a long time — years of training, personal growth, struggles and setbacks.
It also took a village. Many people — especially rehabilitation counselors — supported this man on his tough journey, and helped knock down obstacles that we all know face the men and women who return from war, wounded.
We know, but what do most of us do about it?
Some of us complain about the taxes needed to help veterans when they come home. Funny, we didn’t complain when they were fighting for our freedom.
We’ve already turned away from those wounded vets who self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to soothe their post-war pain. We don’t equate taxes with the mental health treatment they need. We don’t want to know that the $1-trillion cost of two wars will be followed by staggering costs for rehabilitation and treatment for decades.
We’re already shunning those Iraq war veterans who are homeless, as if they chose to return to the world’s richest country to live on the streets, after risking their lives because we put them in harm’s way.
No matter where we stand on war, veterans are our shared responsibility. Post-World War II Americans understood this. They supported their veterans, seeing a real link between “the greatest generation” and America’s safety and prosperity. (See NBC’s Anne Curry’s op-ed piece about her dad’s generation and this generation of warriors, in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.)
Terrorism knows no borders. It’s tougher to make a link between Afghanistan and the 9/11 architects, especially now that Osama bin Laden and many al Qaeda leaders are dead, and their network allegedly fractured.
Do we even know when the Iraq war officially ended? What that meant? The numbers who came home? The post-war costs to the returnees, their families, and the rest of us?
We lack historical memory. Only Americans of a certain age really know what the Vietnam vets faced on their return. They’re still with us; we abandoned them.
Vietnam war vet, Vinny Blue, busking in San Francisco. (©Kathleen Kenna photo, 2012)
I’m grateful to have worked and volunteered with veterans. I’m grateful to have heard some of their stories, and grateful that they shared much with me. Civilians can’t know what they’ve endured.
Yet we know what they face on their return: High unemployment, strained resources, and a shortage of post-war services, after they’ve left the battlefield or, sadly, hospital wards and rehabilitation hospitals.
I’m grateful that mainstream media finally is calling national attention to high unemployment among returnees. Officially, it’s estimated at 29% compared to the national average of 8%. Unofficially, of course, the jobless rate is far higher. It’s tied to all the woes of our national jobless crisis, from foreclosed homes to deepening poverty.
I’m grateful that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — no friend to the jobless or, sadly, many workers — is finally stepping up to join the chorus of those calling for jobs for veterans.
Today, the Chamber has joined NBC News in a “Hiring Our Heroes” campaign, with job fairs across the country. I watched men and women in uniform aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid this morning, meeting employers. I listened intently to the questions about their resumes, and veterans’ replies about their experience as leaders, managers, and people who know how to get things done.
I’m impressed by leaders like Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden (two Masters degree and a PhD!), who joined First Lady Michelle Obama in a long, “Joining Forces” campaign to support military families. The Bidens’ son, Beau, served a year in Iraq. Educator Jill Biden, especially, spoke well this morning about the need for all Americans to support the retraining, education and hiring of returnees.
Listening to vets at job fairs today, I was touched that they didn’t speak about the sacrifices we asked of them, and their families. No one was saying “you owe us!” No, incredibly, they were talking about giving back to their communities.
Giving back when already, they have given more to their country than most of us ever will, or would be willing to do.
I was moved by their strength. I’m always moved by their courage.
Please, listen to veterans’ voices: They’re not talking at us about war. They’re asking us to hear them.