When I’m not working, I wear a Vietnam Veterans Against the War button that I bought in Washington, D.C., during an anti-war demonstration on May 3, 1971.
I’ve been wearing it since the first Persian Gulf War.
I’m not a pacifist. I believe that the forces of radical Islam want to destroy America and our way of life. Their goals don’t differ much from what the Axis powers wanted to accomplish during World War II, and we need to oppose radical Islam with the same fervor with which we fought in the 1940s.
So why the button?
What I oppose is the way we’re waging the war. We’re trying to be politically correct about how we fight the war, and that won’t work — now or ever. But that’s a conversation for another day.
More than the way we’re waging the war, I oppose the lack of services and programs for those returning home after fighting in it.
While we’ve learned “to separate the war from the warrior,” coming home isn’t always all that welcoming if you’ve been wounded physically or psychologically (which in my opinion is just about everyone, unless you were a sociopath before you deployed) or if you need a job.
Once a veteran returns home, the government pretty much wants them to reintegrate into civilian life as if nothing had happened. You see, it’s expensive to treat those damaged by war.
Bureaucrats calculate the cost of war in terms of ammunition, weapons, and replacement parts, etc. They seldom consider the aftermath as a cost, the physical and psychological trauma, the harm done to marriages, to a parent’s relationship with his/her children, PTSD, the night traumas, the stalled or ruined careers.
It’s important for all of us to understand that when we send young men and women to war, they bring the war home with them.
The manner in which we wage war may have changed, but individual experiences have not.
With America pulling out of Afghanistan, thousands of military personnel will be returning home. I guarantee you that neither the government nor the Veterans Administration are prepared with the funds and personnel to provide the breadth and depth of services these veterans are going to need, and deserve.
With the exception of World War II, they never have and I doubt they ever again will.
According to the National Veterans Foundation, veterans will face issues such as:
— Unemployment. Veteran unemployment is nearly twice the national average.
— Post-traumatic stress. One out of every three Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans suffers from PTSD.
— Traumatic brain Injury (TBI) or a combination of TBI and PTSD due to combat trauma.
— The backlog of more than 700,000 claims at the Veterans Administration. The average wait for the VA to process a claim is close to 300 days.
— Homelessness. A third of all homeless citizens in America are veterans.
Fortunately, in the North Country, there are people like Assemblywoman Janet Duprey who understand the issue better than most. Two weeks ago, she convened a meeting to introduce retired Gen. Mark Graham to a group of community leaders who work for agencies that provide many of the services veterans will need.
Gen. Graham founded Homeward Bound, a national organization whose purpose is to “Guide Veterans All The Way Home.” The local chapter, Homeward Bound Adirondacks (www.homewardboundadirondacks.org), will provide “veterans and families opportunities to realize their full potential through innovative programming with community support.”
Homeward Bound Adirondacks is a perfect complement to The North Country Veterans Association (www.ncva.org) who have been serving and advocating on behalf of veterans for years.
I applaud Assemblywoman Duprey for quietly getting in front of this important issue. The organizations she brought together will be at the forefront of helping veterans successfully reintegrate into civilian life.
Organizing and planning in advance of when returning veterans will need these life-changing services is critical. It’s not an issue where you want to be playing catch-up.
It’s a cliché, but freedom isn’t free. And health care, mental-health counseling and occupational skills training aren’t cheap, but they are part of the commitment we make to war veterans.
These veterans have already paid a high cost for serving our country; we owe them more than a debt of gratitude.
Paul A. Grasso, Jr. is president & CEO of The Development Corporation of Clinton County.