As Veterans Day approaches I am thinking about what it all means. What does it really mean to be a veteran of the armed forces and remember the sacrifice military veterans have made in the defense of this great nation?
No candidate for president or the U.S. Senate has said enough about our engagement in Afghanistan or the nation’s homeless veterans. One in seven of the adult homeless are veterans. Thirty-four percent of them are African American, a distinct overrepresentation. More than 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness.
This information came from a March 2012 report from the Center for American Progress titled “Veteran Poverty by the Numbers.” A recent report by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs says that 67,000 veterans are homeless on a nightly basis. Again, no outcry.
I do not recall seeing a single policymaker attend the August 2012 “Massachusetts Stand Down” in Dorchester, where over 800 homeless veterans were served and treated with respect in the two-day event.
In the case of veteran unemployment, the facts are equally as disturbing. About 30 percent of all veterans age 18 to 24 are unemployed. For veterans of color, the rate is 48 percent. It is hardly a fitting reward for serving in the defense of America and the world.
Who are the men and women who put their lives on the line to return, in far too many cases, to poverty and unemployment? Who really defends America? Is it the upper, middle, or lower class?
If you examine the 1 percent, it is clear that, in far too many cases, the privileged do not serve and that poor people of all races, in disproportionate numbers, have always been there to defend America.
My thoughts are with my own experience in the Vietnam War and the long readjustment and peer counseling period after war, and I compare that to the current experience of the troops we have placed in harm’s way and their outstanding performance in a war that is hardly mentioned on the campaign trail.
I feel for our young men and women who, despite the lack of real focus on the war shown in recent weeks, continue to put in the real work on the battlefield, just as my generation did in Vietnam.
War is not good, but many positives were gained from the negatives of war. These positives have powered a unique class of military veterans from across this nation to the highest levels of the public safety, education, community services and business sectors.
Many of my generation’s veterans worked hard to see to it that this generation of veterans’ homecomings would not mirror ours. But it takes a combined effort from every American to restore honor, respect and dignity to each and every one of America’s military veterans.
The amount of money that has been spent on political advertising for this current election would solve most of the problems of all veterans of all wars.
Ernest E. Washington, Jr. is president emeritus of the former Veterans Benefits Clearinghouse, Inc. Board of Directors, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam and a local businessman.