For most Americans, Veterans Day is about waving flags and visiting poignant sites such as the Viet Nam Memorial wall in Washington D.C. and the Punch Bowl in Honolulu to pay respects to our fallen soldiers.
Americans acknowledge that soldiers do the hardest work of all in our society. They are willing to give their lives for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, in no matter what part of the globe, wherever they are deployed. Most of us will say that they do a job we personally could not do.
So why do they suffer from homelessness, unemployment, depression and a lack of support once they have completed their military commitment?
Right now there are 62,600 veterans without homes, and jobless rates that vary among different groups and different wars. For new war veterans, returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, 18 to 24-year olds had an average unemployment rate of 20.4% in 2012. In early 2013, in a study of 4000 new veterans 16% reported they were jobless. Of those, 33.8% were unemployed for over a year. Many have been jobless for two years, a statistic of 17% for the group.
There is great speculation as to why the vets face such daunting statistics about job search. According to a study by the Center for a New American Security, businesses believe that veterans are confused about how to translate their military job experience into civilian work places. They admit to believing that veterans' inabilities will negatively affect their bottom lines. Indeed, 60% of veterans do find it difficult to translate their military jobs into civilian positions.
With these challenges for veterans in mind, as Veterans Day approaches, Congress is strengthening the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to help vets by eliminating the barriers to new training back in the states, and making it mandatory for all returning units.
Other programs are helping shelter homeless vets, who often have post-traumatic stress disorder or drug abuse problems. Atlanta, Georgia now collaborates with a number of organizations such as PACE, Inc., Unsheltered No More, the VA and the Veterans Empowerment Organization of Georgia. These services provide counseling and support for job search and training. They're doing this with a $3.3 million dollar grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Perhaps Veterans Day is not just a day for Americans to wave flags and visit graves, important as both are as a means of acknowledgement of veterans and their life-endangering jobs.
For many elected officials throughout the country, the day is about providing the support they need as they transition out of joblessness, homelessness and substance dependence to being self-supporting once more.
Perhaps it's time for Veterans Day to become a day of helping veterans to find a payoff for their own "pursuit of happiness."