With the war in Iraq ending and the ongoing draw down in
Afghanistan, over 100,000 active duty, Guard, and reserve servicemembers will
soon be coming home. Many of which will be transitioning back into civilian
life. Like their Vietnam era predecessors, today’s returning troops are coming
home to a down economy with record unemployment and an uncertain future. In
fact the unemployment rate for veterans is higher than the general population.
And, like veterans of previous wars, today’s vets are dealing with the military
specific issues of PTSD, severe injuries, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI),
along with the perception that they may be unstable.
However, unlike their conscripted predecessors, today’s
all-volunteer force is being welcomed home with open arms and the thanks of a
grateful nation. This time around our country is much more focused on doing
right by our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Beyond Saying Thanks
Today’s veteran will come home to the new Post-9/11 GI Bill
which offers full tuition coverage (up to $17,500 a year), a $1,000 a year book
and supply stipend, and a cost of living stipend which can range up to $2,500 a
In addition, the federal government has initiated several
new programs to help returning troops find employment. The latest example is
the passage of the ‘VOW to Hire Heroes Act,’ which offers employers tax breaks
for hiring veterans and a brand-new GI Bill for older unemployed vets that
offers up to $17,600 in additional education and training benefits.
Organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Iraq
and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Non-Commissioned Officers
Association, are partnering with federal agencies and companies like
Monster.com and Military.com to offer local and online veteran focused career
On Veterans Day, the VA launched a program my team helped
create called VAforVets. The online program offers veterans direct assistance
with translating their military occupations, sub-specialties, training, skills
and experience into civilian terms, and provides a list of open positions being
offered in the federal government that match those skills. VAforVets also
assists with resume writing and helping vets determine which civilian career fields
best suit their personalities and experiences. In addition, companies like
Boeing and Brinks have worked with us to create non-government job matching
versions of the same tool.
Returning troops are also coming home to a much improved DoD
and VA provided health care and support system. In addition to new Wounded
Warrior care giver programs that provide financial and training support for families
of severely injured veterans.
As a veteran’s advocate, author of the Military Advantage, and the managing editor for the world’s largest
online military benefits resource, my concern is that many in our country view
and treat our veterans like victims to be pitied. While we do owe a debt of
gratitude and must do all we can to ensure they get the respect and support they
need and deserve, we must also avoid treating them as if they are victims.
Our current generation of servicemembers and veterans joined
due to sense of patriotism and a desire to serve their country. According to a
recent Time Magazine article, today’s returning troops are more highly educated
and motivated than the general population they serve. So I would encourage you
to continue to say thanks when you see a veteran or servicemember, but do so
knowing they are heroes and patriots to be honored, not victims to be pitied.