As America's veterans mark the passing of yet another Veterans Day, and in light of the Republican sweep in Congress, it's important to look at the challenges that veterans are facing as they return home and try to create a life after the military, and look at what the new party in power is going to have to tackle to ensure that veterans are taken care of.
After more than a decade at war, America's veterans are returning home with debilitating injuries, problems finding work, and serious mental health issues that are contributing to veteran homelessness and substance abuse problems.
Modern medical science has made magnificent strides in the last 40 years, as more and more injured veterans are surviving their wounds. Just a generation earlier, many of these injuries would have been a death sentence. But once those injured veterans return home, they face an exhausting and painful rehabilitation process and, in the case of those who come home confined to a wheelchair, it can mean having to deal with expensive renovations.
Once they get home and try to return to normal life, veterans of the most recent conflicts still face serious problems finding work. Post-9/11 veterans currently have an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, compared to a civilian unemployment rate of 5.4 percent. This doesn't take into account those veterans who have simply stopped looking for work. Currently, there are 712,000 post-9/11 veterans who are categorized as "not in the workforce."
It is no secret that veterans of all conflicts have suffered from PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), depression, and anxiety. These mental health problems can make one's own environment, and even one's own mind, feel like a prison that is inescapable. This feeling of "no way out" contributes to the alarmingly high rate of veteran suicides. According to current statistics, 22 veterans a day commit suicide, and this number has remained essentially unchanged for years.
Another casualty of these enormous mental health problems are the families of veterans. As more veterans suffer from the effects of mental health problems and become more withdrawn, more of the daily responsibilities fall to spouses, leaving them feeling exhausted and resentful. The divorce rate among post-9/11 veterans has skyrocketed by 42 percent. A similar increase was seen following the Vietnam War.
Homelessness is another problem faced by veterans. While the Obama administration has said it will end veteran homelessness by 2015, many are skeptical that it will happen. About 13 percent of the homeless population are veterans, with 8 percent of those being women. Women are the fastest growing demographic of homeless veterans. Another 1.4 million veterans are considered "at risk" for homelessness due to substance abuse, a lack of a support network, and poor housing conditions.
While the VA claims to be making strides in helping veterans face these and other problems, whatever successes they purport to be having is debatable, as the VA has not been known historically for being open and honest with veterans or the American people. Currently, the VA simply doesn't have the resources to reach all the veterans that need help -- so private charities must pick up the slack.
The incoming Congress has a new crop of veterans to help fight for their brothers and sisters in arms. There are 22 veterans of recent conflicts who won election last week. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) is a disabled veteran of the famed Seal Team Six. Senator-elect Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) served with the 101st Airborne Division in both Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to The Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
It's unclear which of these freshman lawmakers will take advantage of their military experience and push for appointments to the Veteran's Affairs and Armed Services Committees. In all, about 100 veterans of all conflicts will take to the halls of Congress to conduct the nation's business and tackle the problems facing America's veterans in the coming year.