Thursday, November 15, 2012

Shortchanged Veterans

As a Veteran and on behalf of Veterans, in order to draw attention to the subject, I’ve intentionally posted this entry a few days after the fact. Veteran’s Day celebrates former service members, those who’ve already served and then returned home having hung up their uniforms and moved on with their lives. We celebrate current military members with Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day for those lost in war. On Veteran’s Day the glowing praise and concern in the media is as predictable as the date on a calendar. It’s nice but the following day it fades away until next year. It is an inescapable fact that more service members and their families are falling through the ever-widening cracks and to say they are being shortchanged is an understatement. Veterans are being left behind and forgotten with too many people turning a blind eye – except on Veteran’s Day.

In the mid-eighties, during what now seems like the good old days of the Cold War, I did very little preparation and I don’t recall any transition assistance or significant resources for out-processing enlisted service members. Back then, when you were a short-timer and a single-digit midget with less than ten days left to serve, you turned-in equipment, processed your paperwork and did the duffle bag drag back home. Although the economy was better in 1986 than it is today, I didn’t have difficulty adjusting but I was clueless about finding a job. Times have changed; the Internet helps, but it’s a different world since the early 1990’s, and especially these last 12 years, for military members, and there always seems to be a conflict going on somewhere and a constant and exhausting state of war. Fortunately, today there are programs for outgoing service men and women such as TAP and ACAP, assisting service members to better prepare for their transition. However, after their last paycheck and they return to civilian status there is little, if any, additional help and they are on their own. Military brass from all service branches recognize that the plight of exiting military members is a growing problem that will, no doubt, worsen during the next 10 years exacerbated by a further downsizing of 100,000 active duty members, in addition to the normal influx of those already leaving the military each day.

Granted, there are lots of people who are struggling and looking for work, but of the different demographic groups, Veterans have it tougher than any other. When military budgets are cut, do you think Uncle Sam buys fewer bombs and bullets? Perhaps, but before that happens they cut already austere “non-essential” programs and services for current military members and their families. There is some help coming from the private sector, for example, in the form of job fairs and groups like HOH (Hire Our Heroes) comprised of a mix of former military and civilian business people, making their contribution to lend a hand and provide Vets with more opportunity.

Adding another dimension to the obstacles Veterans face and worthy of note, in recent years I’ve observed - with the exception of on Veteran's Day -  the media makes a hobby of portraying Veterans as stressed out ticking time bombs, ready to pop on any given day. This unfair stereotyping has a ripple effect on their chances of finding employment in the eyes of interviewers. And please allow me one more comment about this; scores of Vets who also bore the physical and mental scars of war came home after the Second World War and helped build the greatest economy the world has ever known. Veterans have returned to work after every conflict since then and they are no different today. After their service, when Veterans return to the classroom, they routinely demonstrate they are more mature and focused than other students. When they go to work they are harder working, dedicated, willing and able to take on responsibility. They don’t want pity and, although I personally think they should be moved to the head of the line after volunteering their service when so many others don’t, at the very least they deserve a fair chance to be considered equally with other applicants without derision or attachment of undeserved stereotypes. Former service members appreciate a day of recognition, but what they and their families really want and need is real assistance and a chance to demonstrate why they deserve the same appreciation they received while in uniform.

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