By: Dave Rogers
Though generations apart, veterans of the Vietnam War and current wars share many things in common when it comes to life after service, like communities that don’t honor them as much as they should, a failing healthcare system, and a struggle to make ends meet.
Don’t get me wrong, some things have gotten better over time. Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of today are definitely treated better than those who came home from the Vietnam War, but the divide is not that great in other areas.
After service, the job market is not as abundant for those who served. Many, thinking that their training in the military will help them find jobs, only come out to find advanced degrees take precedence over years of on-the-job training, working and learning. Others are finding that their civilian markets are over-saturated with workers and veterans need to go back to school to find another career path. Then there are those like Infantry Soldiers who find there is little to no job path when they enter the civilian world. Sadly, out of the almost two million Post 9/11 veterans eligible to use the GI Bill, only about one third have actually taken advantage of it.
The worst issue is probably healthcare; currently the VA only enrolls about 32% of veterans who leave the military, leaving hundreds of thousands of veterans in need of better medical treatment. What most veterans don’t know is that enrollment in the VA is more than just healthcare; enrollment also includes education, housing and other benefits that veterans need for themselves and their families.
Current soldiers are not the only ones with these problems; 30% of Vietnam Veterans have not received any care from the VA, many of whom are women and support staff. About 32% of veterans who live in Suffolk County are homeless, in transitional housing, or in shelters. About 20% of them are Vietnam Era Veterans. The leading cause of homelessness for veterans is alcohol and drug related issues that stem from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
We hear the numbers all the time. 22 veterans take their lives every day, but what that number does not tell you is that 14 of them do not have access to the VA or any kind of medical care. Veterans are not given the information they need to get the proper help. Using New York as an example, every major area of New York has service officers. Some work for the state, some for the county, others for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion (AL). Each of these service officers are there to help veterans find and receive the benefits they need, free of charge.
Besides service officers, the VFW and the AL are great resources for veterans to use. Veterans must get involved in their communities and help structure legislation for the future. The VFW and the AL are two of the oldest veteran organizations in the U.S., and they are the only two organizations that have legislative groups in each state that go to their state capital and to Washington DC to fight for veterans’ rights and benefits. Veterans must have a hand in reclaiming their civilian lives after separating from service, but first they need clear access to the benefits due them. Basic human necessities are denied so many veterans who served their country. Vietnam Veterans deserved better than they got and today’s service men and women deserve better too.