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Honor, respect beyond Veterans Day

Veterans face challenges not being adequately addressed

Every Veterans Day, American patriotism is displayed in full by people thanking and saluting those who have served in the military. But every other day of the year, these same veterans that we claim to honor and respect are faced with challenges that we are not working hard enough to adequately address.

The Veteran’s Health Administration scandal over the past year highlighted the fact that even our own government is putting veterans’ issues on the backburner and is not treating veterans with respect the way they themselves encourage Americans to. According to reports from CNN in April 2014, about 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at a VA facility in Arizona, prompting an investigation that revealed deeper issues in the system. According to reports, more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting for treatment or never even received it, and schedulers were pressured to use inappropriate practices to hide the numbers and make it seem like wait times were not as bad as they actually were. Following an in-depth investigation, President Obama signed legislation regarding funding and reform of the VA — but this is just the beginning of much-needed reform in the overall way that this country treats veterans.

Many people join the army because of the benefits it is supposed to give them once they have served, but it seems those promises are not being fulfilled. Instead, we have severe issues of mental illness that plagues the veteran population and is linked to high rates of homelessness and unemployment. Thirteen percent of the total homeless population in America is composed of veterans — as of last year, 44 percent of those homeless veterans were concentrated in California, Florida and New York. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, nearly 60,000 veterans are homeless in America every night. These numbers are completely unacceptable for anyone, but it’s ironic that while we claim to salute veterans for their service, so many are literally left to live on the streets with no community support.

The unemployment rate for veterans has been a full three percentage points higher than the already unacceptably high national unemployment rate since 2009, and according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, there were about 722,000 unemployed veterans last year. These unemployment rates are usually attributed to the stereotypes that are assigned to veterans regarding post-traumatic stress disorder, reliability and other factors that stem from mental illnesses and psychological trauma.

In addition to honoring veterans for their past service, we should think about the real, ongoing costs of war — something that this country continues to disregard. We continue to spend much more money on sending troops abroad than focusing on their wellbeing and rehabilitation when they come home. While the VA requested $2.5 billion to reform its services and increase efficiency in 2015 the Department of Defense is projecting a budget of $575 billion for the same year.

Veterans Day has become yet another commercialized holiday with an unnecessary emphasis on freebies, discounts and sales — a nice gesture, but one that clearly has no impact on the overall attitude toward veterans’ needs. Honoring veterans is supposed to be the patriotic thing to do, but that doesn’t just mean enthusiastically waving flags and displaying bumper stickers to show support. If we think that honoring veterans is the patriotic thing to do, we should be looking for ways to contribute on an individual level — there are many local organizations that put together care packages for veterans who are unemployed or homeless, for example. Rutgers was ranked number four on the Military Times’ “Best for Vets: Colleges 2014,” an annual list of the top four-year universities and colleges for military veterans, based on criteria that includes helping veterans integrate into the college environment and providing them with support and resources. If we really want to give back to the veterans, we should make it a nationwide effort all year round — not just on Veterans Day.

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