Fulfilling our commitment to America’s heroes

Throughout America’s history, the men and women of our armed forces have fought and sacrificed to defend our freedoms. They have bravely answered duty’s call and fulfilled their pledge to God and country. It is now time that we as citizens fulfill our pledge to them.

Today America stands at the precipice of a grave tragedy. Those who once wore our nation’s uniform comprise a staggering portion of America’s jobless, homeless and suicide victims.

Our returning soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are some of the best-trained, most experienced and most disciplined individuals for their age. Yet they have found little traction with employers unaware of how to leverage their skills.

Nearly one million veterans lack jobs. Among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the jobless rate reached 11.1% this fall, higher than the national average.

On any given night, tens of thousands of homeless veterans — some with their families — are found living in shelters and on the streets.

And after triumphing over the perils of death on the battlefield, a record number of veterans are taking their own lives at home. It’s estimated that every 80 minutes a veteran dies by suicide.

This is not how America takes care of its heroes.

As we gather this Veterans Day for parades and BBQ’s, let us resolve to offer our heroes more than just a passing tribute. Let us resolve to care for our veterans with the same rigor and discipline with which we prepared them for battle.

Our returning warriors deserve the dignity of earning a fair day’s wage, a roof over their head and world-class care to heal from the psychological and physical wounds of battle.

Helping veterans transition from the battlefront to the homefront starts with fixing our economy, which is stifling opportunity and creating hardships for not only veterans, but all Americans.

Yet we also know veterans face unique challenges unfamiliar to civilians.

The haunting images of war do not easily fade away. We must train our service members and supporting personnel to recognize the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among their ranks, and for those who cannot reach out for help on their own, we must extend a hand to them.

We must provide our veterans with the full spectrum of proactive, timely medical support necessary to recover from the scars of war, and heal on all counts.

There are other concrete actions we should take. Too often, funds provided by the G.I. Bill and other programs go to for-profit colleges with low graduation rates and little post-graduation employment success. We should expand the opportunities for our veterans to access existing vocational education and training programs for better success in the workforce.

Providing effective health care to veterans is hampered by insufficient data, red tape and a lack of coordination between agencies. The waiting time for treatment must be reduced, and services must focus on recovery wherever possible, to speed veterans’ reintegration back to civilian life.