Increasingly more Americans, upon recognizing a military veteran, are likely to approach him or her and say, “Thank you for your service.”
While that is commendable and can be touching, it is not enough just to thank individuals for having been willing to sacrifice their lives for their country and our precious freedoms. We must fight to ensure that upon their return from service that they are truly taken care of, especially when it comes to their physical and mental health.
Of all the wars this nation has fought, from the American Revolution on, we still are engaged in the two longest wars in the history of the country: Afghanistan and Iraq. They have been costly conflicts, both in terms of lives lost and dollars spent. And for the thousands returning with backpacks full of troubles, they continue to pay an immeasurable price.
In our volunteer military, only 1 percent of Americans choose to serve. That means 99 percent owe them an incredible debt. Consider that more than 4,500 men and women have died in Iraq, more than 2,400 have been killed in Afghanistan and tens of thousands have been wounded physically and emotionally. It’s impossible to calculate that toll.
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Add to those numbers the suicides and suicide attempts among veterans, and it is difficult to measure the pain and heartache. According to the latest Veterans Affairs (VA) statistics, 20 veterans kill themselves in this country every day. That figure is down a bit from a couple of years ago, when the term “22 Kill” was in use, meaning that 22 veterans a day were the victims of suicide.
Over the past few years, after revelations of major failures by the VA, we have noticed an increase in resources for the institution. In 2014, for example, the VA spent about $2.5 billion in the North Texas region alone with major expenditures divided between benefits for compensation and pensions. About $844 million was spent on medical care and $292 million was dedicated to education and vocational programs.
About 386,000 veterans, or one-fourth of vets statewide, live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. What is life like for them and their families even with some VA assistance?
The truth is, despite the amount of dollars being spent or the number of VA facilities in operation, veterans need more assistance, and we must find a way to provide it.
I’m not speaking of me personally, although I did serve as the Command Chaplain NATO Training Mission/Afghanistan and the Combined Security Training Command-Afghanistan, which consisted of U.S. troops and coalition troops from 38 nations. I, too, returned with my own set of issues. I, firsthand, know that no matter how smart and independent one might be, it is almost impossible to navigate the government assistance alone.
Veterans need help.
Yes, there needs to be an increase in veterans funding for mental health programs to create and ensure consistent care and support are readily available. And there needs to be more progress in addressing depression and family readjustment after multiple combat tours.
Contact local veterans’ organizations to see how you can help. Also contact your members of Congress and demand more than lip-service on this important issue.
Rich Stoglin is retired from the U.S. Navy, where he served as a commander in the Chaplain Corps. He’s a member of VETCO, the Veterans Coalition of Tarrant County.