The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 12, 2013

Veterans make world safer

Why it matters:U.S. involvement in conflicts around the world relies on Veterans' willingness to serve


The Mankato Free Press

---- — On Veterans Day we remember we’re kept safe by the service of hundreds of thousands of veterans who risk their lives in a world that grows more dangerous every year.

Like their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers before them, today’s veterans face harm from dozens of conflicts where the weaponry seems unlimited and those willing to use it for evil seems unrestrained.

Veterans Day ceremonies and events seem almost too small a gratitude for the enormous sacrifices that have been made by veterans. Fortunately, the support for veterans during and after their service appears to be growing. It’s a good sign.

There are many support services for veterans coming home. There’s a new recognition that integrating back into civilian life is not easy. Various programs aim to help veterans and their families make a smooth transition back to a normal family life.

That transition back to civilian life is made easier if veterans secure employment or can go back to the job they left when they were deployed. Veteran unemployment still remains too high.

The unemployment rate for all veterans stood at 6.5 percent in September, but for Gulf War II era veterans – those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan – the unemployment rate was 10 percent.

Some action has been taken on this front. Many veterans are eligible for training or retraining through a new GI Bill education program. About a year ago, Minnesota added its own changes to veteran hiring preference laws. The number of “points” for veterans passing a pre-employment test for any state job was increased to 10 to 15 points from 5 to 10.

The law also tightened up rules for state employers holding open jobs for veterans who are deployed. It allowed for private employers and county governments to set up veteran preference hiring systems.

There remains much work to be done in the employment area for veterans however. A survey by Military.com showed that 75 percent of veterans reported difficulty translating their military skills to the employment world and 61 percent of employers had very little understanding of skills veterans could offer.

Employment opportunities also can be difficult for veterans struggling with mental health issues. A report by the Center for American Progress notes that there were 349 active duty suicides in 2012, breaking the record set just three years earlier.

Stanford University studies estimate 35 percent of deployed veterans experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization estimates 10 to 20 percent of Iraq-Afghanistan veterans have a traumatic brain injury. And according to the research agency RAND, only about half of the veterans diagnosed with PTSD or depression sought help.

And while it’s important government be involved in helping veterans, average citizens and the private sector can do their part. Employers should look closely at hiring veterans. They have developed skills, work ethic and discipline during their time in the military. If there are skills for a job they need to learn, veterans understand the importance of training.

Citizens only need to listen to veterans when they have something to say. Some will want to talk about their combat experiences, some won’t. Many are frustrated by the question: “What was it like over there.”

The political divisiveness of our country tends to overshadow that unity we should all have when it comes to veterans, providing for their needs related to their service. We can discuss the use of force around the world with vigor and we should, but in those debates we should also consider how our decisions will affect the lives of duties of the veterans charged with carrying out the political will of elected leaders.

Remembering veterans during those discussions will be as important as remembering them on Veterans Day.

There will be a Veterans Stand Down event Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato. Various organizations that assist veterans will be on hand to answer questions. For more information, contact the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans at 507-345-8258