Honoring vets is an ongoing pledge

By the end of December, America’s combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.

After more than 13 years of war, our men and women in uniform — many part of the 9-11 generation of heroes — will be coming home.

Some will be entering the civilian workforce for the first time. Others will continue their uniformed service at military installations across the globe.

Regardless of where they go, new battles will await them.

There’s a good chance that some newly minted veterans will have trouble readjusting to life in a noncombat zone or reintegrating with their friends and families. Others will have trouble matching their military skills and knowledge to available job opportunities. And too many vets will be plagued by more serious injuries, physical and emotional.

Americans on the homefront, especially these days, are marginally aware of what goes on during our military missions abroad.

But, as a general rule, we are even less attuned to war’s collateral damage — veteran suicides, rampant homelessness, post traumatic stress and other medical and psychological problems that plague an alarming number of our current and former military.

According to a report released by the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas earlier this year, 71 percent of Americans said they do not understand the problems facing our veterans.

While the well-publicized scandal that consumed the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs earlier this year rightly drew plenty of headlines, problems like the high veteran unemployment rate remain less known.

Last year, the unemployment rate for vets who served during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, was 9 percent, compared with 7.2 percent for nonveterans, according to a March study by the Bureau of Labor of Statistics.

We tend not to pay attention to the high incidence of post traumatic stress in returning combat veterans until an act of violence occurs.

And we fail to realize that many of our nation’s homeless — more than 500 in Fort Worth each year — are veterans.

A litany of government, private and nonprofit entities are working to address this civilian-military divide and to assist the men and women whose service has kept our nation safe and prosperous for generations.

Starbucks, for example, has pledged to hire at least 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018. And a coalition of more than 170 national companies agreed to hire 100,000 vets by 2020. As of Sept. 30, they had hired more than 190,000 combined.

Locally, MHMR of Tarrant County offers counseling, transitional housing, legal aid and other support services for vets.

According to Star-Telegram reporter Barry Shlachter, Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway hopes that 25 percent of new hires this year will be vets. The company surpassed that goal in 2013.

This is a good start. We all have a role to play in ensuring that returning vets are honored for their sacrifice.

On this Veterans Day, begin your effort by thanking those who have served.