A Hopeful Future for Veterans?
During a Veteran's Day stroll past the downtown Washington DC war memorials, a friend and I struck up a conversation with two Vietnam veterans, now 67 and 64 years old. Thirty minutes later, my eyes brimmed with tears as Dick and Sandy recounted their heart-wrenching experiences as medics near the front line and their cold homecoming when they finally landed on California soil.
The stress of living in dangerous war conditions coupled with making life-or-death decisions every day took a serious toll on both Sandy and Dick's mental health. Dick, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, shudders at the sight of green Huey helicopters used to this day for military drills, reliving painful wartime memories of when those helicopters signaled the arrival of newly injured troops. For Sandy, one of the few female medics stationed in Vietnam, the eight women honored on the Vietnam Memorial wall are a particularly poignant reminder of the friends and fellow nurses who never returned home. Returning to the Vietnam Memorial this Veteran's Day, the 30th anniversary of the wall's construction, stirred ever-tender memories for both of them.
When asked what they would hope differently for young soldiers now returning from the Middle East, Dick and Sandy agreed that above all, what soldiers need is appreciation. After months of working, living, and purposefully serving with a closely-knit family of soldiers, they need warm thanks for their service and affirmation of their self-worth as they adjust to civilian lives. Jake Wood, co-founder and president of Team Rubicon, a veteran service organization that enlists disaster relief teams to revive purpose and self-worth in young veterans, agrees with Dick and Sandy.
Recently featured on CNN Heroes, Jake Wood, 28, and co-founder William McNulty recognized that the skills and experiences of military veterans match perfectly with the urgent needs of emergency response teams. 92 percent of American veterans say they want to continue their service post-deployment, but adjusting from Captain to civilian can take a toll on veteran reintegration. In a recent Ted Talk, Wood describes an 18 year-old Army veteran struggling to reintegrate into American society: "You give him a chainsaw and you send him to Joplin, Missouri after a tornado, he regains that [mission and sense of purpose]...You drop 25 of those veterans in Joplin, Missouri, they get that sense of community back...You send him to Joplin after a tornado and someone once again is walking up to him and shaking their hand and thanking them for their service, now they have self worth again."
The time for Dick and Sandy's generation of Vietnam veterans has come and gone, but young millennials returning from Iraq and the Middle East still have the opportunity to succeed in society if they are given the chance. Young veterans may be our strongest resource in disaster relief, and they are certainly a resource in which it's worth investing.
Jennifer Hicks is a Communications Intern for Campus Progress.
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