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Bush highlights Military Service Initiative helping veterans reintegrate

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Former President George W. Bush appeared on ABC News' "This Week" on Sunday Feb. 23, 2014 speaking to Martha Raddatz about the Military Service Initiative at the Bush Institute geared especially towards veterans were served in the military in the post-9-11 wars, Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier in the week Bush and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden have teamed up together to get the 99 percent of the American population to help, "support and honor" the one percent of post-9/11 military veterans and their family at "Empowering Our Nation's Warriors" an event held at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas on Wednesday Feb. 19, 2014.

Former President Bush, who has for the most part taken a backseat in public and political affairs since leaving office in 2009, has taken to the arena again to highlight what is an important issue that has not been given enough attention, veteran integration. With the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over and the last soldiers returning from Afghanistan, the most important issue for veterans is integrating back into civilian society.

Bush is working with Dr. Jill Biden and the First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative Joining Forces started in 2011 to support the military and the families. The former president's The George W. Bush Institute is also working with Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families on a survey on life for post-9/11 veterans, the survey will be released this upcoming spring.

In his interview that aired Sunday, Feb. 23, on ABC News "This Week" President Bush spoke to Martha Raddatz about the Military Service Initiative. The interview was taped the same day Bush hosted the veterans' summit at his presidential center. The former president explained the purpose of the initiative; "There's what we call a civilian-military divide. The returning vets think one thing, the civilian population thinks another. And our aim is to get people to understand each other better for the good of the veteran community."

Bush expressed that he feels since he sent veterans to war that it is his "duty" to help them as they return home, stating; " I have a duty. I obviously get slightly emotional talking about our vets, because I have an emotional…. I'm in there with them." Continuing Bush stated the country owes more to help veterans; "These are men and women who volunteered in the face of danger. I mean, they knew right after 9/11 that the nation would seek justice and to protect ourselves. And some got hurt, and some of them need a lot of help. And our nation owes a huge debt of gratitude."

There are two main points of the initiative getting rid of the stigma associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD and getting veterans employed. Regarding PTSD, Bush announced; "We're getting rid of the D. PTS is an injury; it's not a disorder. The problem is when you call it a disorder, [veterans] don't think they can be treated."

Those two issues intersect, when employers decide against hiring veterans because of the PTSD stigma; "An employer says, 'I don't want to hire somebody with a disorder.' And so our mission tomorrow is to begin to change the dialogue in the United States. And we've got a lot of good support." The former president believes "We got a problem: Too many vets are unemployed," Bush also described how difficult it is to translate military skills to the civilian world; "It's hard to put on your resume, 'hire me; I was a sniper.' I mean the average employer can't figure out what that means."

The former president finds no matter how difficult the readjustment is for military veterans they continue to remain positive, looking to continue serving their country. Bush told Raddatz; "My spirit is always uplifted when I visit with vets. We've got a society that's incredibly comfortable and too many people saying, 'Oh, woe is me.' Not our veteran community. They say, 'What can I do to continue to serve?' "

Earlier in the week Bush hosted "Empowering Our Nation's Warriors" at his presidential center highlighting the initiative. Both Dr. Biden and Former President Bush spoke at the event, which the Bush Presidential Center described as bringing "together leaders from across the private, public, and non-profit sectors to examine how Americans can more effectively support transitioning warriors and their families."

During her remarks Dr. Biden, highlighted her Joining Forces initiative and the different ways the country can help the needs of veterans and their families; "As I travel across the country and the world, I am always inspired by the strength and the resilience of our military families…. Our military families have done so much for our country, and each of us can do something in return." Joining Forces encourages the American population to support the military and their families.

The first and second ladies' initiative has partnered with major companies to create jobs for returning veterans. Dr. Biden explained; "Companies big and small are stepping up, not just because it's the patriotic thing to do, but because it's the smart thing to do. They know that our service men and women are some of the highest-skilled, hardest-working employees they will ever have."

The initiative also specializes in working with educators to meet the needs of children from military families; "There are military children in every school district in our country, and often teachers, counselors and other students really have no idea that these children have a parent who is serving in the military." Both the Military Children Education Coalition and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education worked together to create Operation Educate the Educators, a program trains teachers to understand the special "needs" of military children.

Dr. Biden concluded by recounting Joining Forces' purpose and what it hopes to accomplish; "Sometimes it's the littlest things that matter most [to military families. … That's what Joining Forces is all about -- commitments that might reach thousands of veterans, to single acts of kindness to make all the difference… There is no greater priority that we as a country have than to fill what my husband, Joe, calls our nation's most sacred obligation -- serving our returning troops and their families as well as they have served us."

President Bush in his remarks mixed humor directly entirely at himself while discussing the initiative and the ways needed to help veterans transition from military to civilian life. Annually the Bush Institute hosts a "100-kilometer mountain bike ride for wounded vets" and "Warrior Open golf tournament."

The main focus of the initiative is to help bridge the "civilian-military divide." President Bush declared; "They are the 1% of America who kept the 99% safe. While it never hurts to say thank you, that is not really the point." There have been 2.5 million military members have served in both wars in the post 9-11 time period, with 50,000 wounded and 8,211 have died.

The former president promised that with his initiative; "We'll be ... relentless in serving our vets." The Military Service initiative will touch on health, education and employment particularly to "de-stigmatize PTSD," keep GI Bill recipients in their educational programs, and "encourage employers" to hire veterans.

Statistics back how difficult the adjustment is between the military and civilian world. The former president announced that the Bush Institute and Syracuse University teamed up to conduct a survey about the difficulties and divide the military feel with civilians after returning home from war. The former president previewed the survey in his remarks at the event.

Bush quoting the yet unreleased poll, stated; "Here is one of the more troubling statistics: 84 percent of the veterans say that the American public has 'little awareness' of the challenges facing them and their families. It turns out most Americans agree: 71 percent of Americans said they do not understand the problems facing our veterans. You might call this a 'civilian-military divide.'"

The Department of Veterans Affairs also determined how difficult it is for veterans, stating that unemployment is higher for veterans at 7.9 percent while the current unemployment rate for the rest of Americans is at 6.6 percent. Although it was improvement over last year's number of 11.7 percent, but still proves more needs to be done.

Veteran Affairs also indicated the suicide rate is extremely high with 22 each day. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also stated that 400,000 veterans still have not received government benefits owed to them. Additionally 30 percent of veterans from combat duty are diagnosed with PTSD.

Former President Bush began his remarks discussing what he misses about being president; "A lot of people ask me, do I miss much about being president? The answer's really no. I mean I miss people I served with. I miss Air Force One. In eight years, they never lost my baggage."

The former president expressed as he has many times before that he misses being commander-in-chief; "I do miss saluting men and women who volunteered to defend our nation during war. Many are coming home and are preparing for new missions as civilians and I intend to salute these men and women for the rest of my life."

Bush discussed one of the most important challenges veterans face when trying to integrate back into civilian life, finding jobs that see the value of their military experience; "Veterans and employers both have a hard time translating military experience. That's not surprising. You don't see many job postings that say 'Wanted: Experience in hunting insurgents and terrorists. Willing to risk life for coworkers.' What's a veteran supposed to put down? 'My last office was a Humvee?'"

Bush encourages employers to hire veterans, convincing them of veterans' attributes; "Hiring veterans is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. As someone who has employed a lot of people in my career, I've learned that you can always teach skills…What matters most in an employee are qualities like character and values, work ethic and responsibility. That's what veterans bring."

The Military Service Initiative according to Bush is partnering with some major U.S. companies including; "7-Eleven, Bank of America, Disney, GE, JC Penney, JP Morgan Chase, Prudential, USAA, Walmart, Blackstone, and LaQuinta"; these "companies have started programs to seek out and hire veterans and military spouses."

In addition to finding jobs for veterans, many returning veterans "need to update their skills," go to college or complete their college education. They are taking advantage of the post-9/11 GI Bill, but many are still dropping out, as Bush explained; "Unlike many Americans struggling to make it through college, the problem here is not money. The problem is fitting in. Veterans account for about 3 percent of the higher education population, and many report feeling isolated from their classmates and or professors."

Bush believes in conjunction his institute, "universities and employers" can help veterans integrate into the workforce; "But it's hard to imagine a more valuable contribution to campus diversity than a group of people who chose to spend their early careers risking their lives for their country. So the Military Service Initiative will work with leaders in higher education to promote innovative programs that recruit, retain, and graduate veterans."

The former president also included a joke and nod to his new hobby as an artist; "At the Bush Center, we believe it's never too late to learn a new skill. Just ask Laura. I promise you, years ago she didn't think she was marrying an oil painter."

Additionally one of the most important element to this initiative is taking the stigma out of post traumatic stress, that many veterans suffer from, which the former president believes should be labeled an injury rather that an disorder. President Bush explained; "The problem with post traumatic stress is not the condition itself. The problem is the stigma surrounding the condition. As most doctors will tell you today, post traumatic stress is not a disorder. Post traumatic stress or PTS is an injury that can result from the experience of war, and like other injuries PTS is treatable."

The American public needs to move away from the perception that having post-traumatic stress makes veterans "damaged." Bush thinks that that the stigma with PTSD, is what deters employers from hiring veterans, but his initiative is going to work on debunking this perception; "We are going to use our platform to make clear that veterans receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress are not damaged goods. They are not mentally shattered. They are people who got hurt defending our country and are now overcoming wounds. Employers would not hesitate to hire an employee getting treated for a medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure. And they should not hesitate to hire veterans getting treated for post-traumatic stress."

Former President Bush concluded; "In sum, the goal of the Military Service Initiative is to empower veterans to make a smooth and successful transition to successful life. We will do that by spreading information to reduce the civilian-military divide, by breaking down barriers and opening new opportunities for employment, and by helping service organizations deliver better results for our vets."

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