America's Veterans Need More Than a Free Burger on a Day the Banks Close

Photo by Lance Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos, via FlickrToday, many restaurants and retail stores offer freebies and discounts to veterans. It's a generous way to say "thank you" — and also a good way to get people out shopping on their day off — but it's certainly not an adequate response to the challenges faced by our veterans.

For too long, veterans have been used as political pawns, and programs that could help them re-enter the work force, get adequate health care, access government services, and find safe housing haven't been implemented. In some cases, the proposals didn't even get a vote.

Alabama's own Senator Jeff Sessions likes to talk about his support of veterans, but his voting record doesn't support his rhetoric. Yet, he just got re-elected without even token opposition from Democrats (in a state that has a large percentage of active-duty and retired veterans).

In fact, many members of Congress talk a good game, but their concern about veterans issues doesn't extend to actual veterans.

But many real people need real help from the country they defended:

  • One in 10 veterans is disabled, often from combat injuries.
  • 19 percent of Iraq veterans report a mental health problem, and more than 11 percent of Afghanistan veterans.
  • A large percentage of homeless males in the U.S. are veterans.
  • The number of Vietnam-era veterans who are homeless exceeds the number of American soldiers who died in that war.

Even if the veteran is healthy and has a home, good luck finding a job:

The unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 — a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans — edged down to 9.0 percent in 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The jobless rate for all veterans also edged down to 6.6 percent.  Twenty-nine percent of Gulf War-era II veterans reported having a service-connected disability in August 2013, compared with 15 percent of all veterans.

Congress is back this week for their "lame duck" session. It would be great if this famous "do-nothing" Congress could do something to help the people who gave up so much for our country. Yes, the Iraq War was senseless and stupid. But the men and women who fought in it were not.

This Veteran's Day, let's call on Congress and the White House to fulfill the promises we made to our country's soldiers.

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