Op-Ed: What YOU Can Do To Help A Struggling Veteran Adjust To Civilian Life
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By: Joel Galford
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We have a big problem in America, I’m not talking about the economy, life time politicians, or the income differences, I’m speaking solely of the problem between America and her veterans that we face today.
With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rapidly drawing to a close, today in America we have roughly 2.5 million veterans from the Global War on terror alone and America doesn’t know what to do with these vets. The recent VA scandals, veteran unemployment rates, lack of mental and physical medical care, tuition cuts and suspensions, military budget cuts that are forcing more and more veterans who wanted to stay in out of service, homeless veteran rates, and veteran suicide rates all speak to this.
For just over 14 years now the military has been active in some way shape or form in the Global War on Terrorism, military personnel entered service during a time of war and served multiple deployments. Now with outcries to cut military funding these same personnel are finding themselves pushed out of all they have known for all of their adult lives.
During service many members sacrificed marriages, seeing their first child being born, their kids growing up, parents growing older, passing of grandparents, suffered though brothers and sisters in service deaths, some lost limbs and sacrificed mental health for a war we didn’t start. In a way we became the war, and the war became a part of us, we became the War Generation.
With the dust of war settling many of us hung up our uniforms whether voluntarily or by being forced out and had to enter a world that didn’t understand our language, our jokes, and didn’t understand why we didn’t care that Demi Lovato had to go to rehab. They wanted to pat us on the back view us as victims, shove bag after bag of medication at us, then tell us to stop acting like babies.
But they don’t understand the plight that many veterans go through.
We have people who at the age of 18 or 19 were given rifles or machine guns, forced to make life and death choices, and God forbid, some had to kill. Now these members are back and in a society where they are no longer valued. They may be working french fries at the drive through getting yelled at by people because the fries weren’t salty enough, a 9 to 5 job where they are continually talked down to by a boss who doesn’t know how to lead. In various university classrooms across the country being told by professors that the war they fought and lost friends in was nothing more than a Blood for Oil dispute, or that their veterans clubs at universities aren’t a good thing because they don’t let anyone but vets in. Yet through all of this people fail to understand why veterans always gravitate towards other veterans, or simply withdraw and stay alone.
How many of these veteran went off to combat at the ages of 18 or 19, their girlfriends/boyfriends cheated on them with their best friends all while that 18 or 19 year old was sweating their backside off in some remote patrol base unable to contact anyone. That veteran became closer with the guys they deployed with than they ever will anyone else.
They came home with less friends than they left with, faced with a multitude of awkward questions from people who didn’t understand what they went through, their former girlfriend/boyfriend left them, their former best friend said “sorry friend”. Little by little the friends they deployed with either PCS’ed or EAS’ed until they had none left, they had more nightmares than when they left. Now at the age of 20 they had been called to die or kill for their country but now was told they couldn’t have a beer. Every day they drag themselves to work thinking that nothing they do will ever make as much of a difference here as it did overseas.
Many service members go through those emotions and examples that I described and get a little voice that says they will never feel more alive than they did there, that they used to be an asset now they are just disregarded and some take their own lives. Everyday in America we lose 22 veterans to suicide and sadly everyday we continue to turn a blind eye.
This has got to stop America.
Each and every one of us can play our own part to cut these numbers! We as Americans need to stop putting so much emphasis on the Justin Bieber’s, on the Kim Kardashian’s, on the the Prince of England’s baby, and start giving a damn about the veteran who lives 2 houses down. Trust me just a little stop-in can change lives. Sure, he or she may seem salty and pissed off but we all appreciate the little things. If you don’t feel comfortable with that get a veteran a beer at the bar (we won’t say no to a beer) and just get to know them don’t ask about the war get to know them personally.
Sure, it’s a small level thing but it sends a message from the American public to our elected leaders;
“We care for our veterans and you should too.” Is what it screams. That message alone will start holding corporations accountable for using veterans just to make a quick buck, and we will start to see shifts in all of the problems between America and her veterans.
Now what I described doesn’t mean many veterans aren’t doing well and providing for their families but when there are more than 130,000 homeless veterans sleeping on the streets at any given night. When we as a country are forcing seasoned NCO’s out of the military, when the veteran unemployment rates are double that of civilians, when the political debates are geared towards getting illegal immigrants health care, tuition, and housing while we have many vets without 1 if not all 3 of those, when we are losing 22 veterans to suicide every single damn day there is a serious problem.
It’s time to wake up America and start fixing our problems at the base level by focusing on the little things. That starts with you and I and that is how we will make America great again, not some empty promise from a politician.
Joel Galford is from Barboursville, West Virginia. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from May 2009 until January 2016. He is an Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) combat veteran who now works in IT and goes to school full time.