Thursday, June 7, 2012

Honoring Our Veterans

By Sally Mouakkad

A tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces at Santa Monica Beach, CA.
Photo Credit: Sally Mouakkad
"For their service and sacrifice, warm words of thanks from a grateful nation are more than warranted, but they aren't nearly enough. We also owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. It's a commitment that begins at enlistment, and
it must never end. But we know that for too long, we've fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need. Too many veterans don't receive the support that they've earned. Too many who once wore our nation's uniform now sleep in our nation's streets." – President Obama

On May 28th, Memorial Day was celebrated in the United States. Around the nation, the American flag was raised half-staff from sunrise until noon at which time it was raised full-staff1 as Americans commemorated all U.S. Military men and women who died while in service to their country. The tasks of our armed forces are not easy as they not only require extensive training, discipline, and physical, mental, and intellectual strength, but they also require many service men and women to say good-bye to  important facets of their lives such as friends and family, for an extended period of time. Often, these servicemen are deployed to far away lands which presently include Afghanistan and Iraq. 

I went to high school in a predominantly working-class minority community in a large urban city in California where, once or twice while in class, I was passed a letter by other students who warned us against joining the U.S. military. This was presumably an attempt to counteract the influence of the couple of military recruiters that we had on campus most days of the week-granted this was just after 9/11. We were basically told in the letter that as minorities, we would be used on the front lines without thought because our lives were expendable to others. Although I don’t remember much more about the letter, I still haven’t forgotten about it. I have always had a positive image of the U.S. military and especially the U.S. Army because my father is a U.S. Army Veteran. My father’s experiences and service to our Nation, is what has motivated and inspired me to also commit myself to public service and to always practice good citizenship. As the daughter of a U.S. Military Veteran, I have also been interested in Veteran Affairs and now that I’ve graduated, I want to volunteer my time to a veteran affairs-type organization.

Veterans are as much of a part of society as any of us. A veteran is a mother, a cousin, a classmate, the person riding next to you on the bus, the CEO of a company, and the manager of your favorite store or restaurant. A veteran is also the homeless person you pass by on your way to school or work, the unemployed and looking for work, a critically wounded friend or significant other that you go to visit in the hospital, and the fellow American struggling to pay the bills and having to choose between making it to their child’s tee-ball game or working overtime. Although returning home is a big relief for both military members and their families, the struggles of service members don’t cease once they’ve returned. Some of the biggest issues that veterans have to deal with include: post-deployment stress, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, and family issues2, as well as “unemployment, getting access to services, health care and housing.”3

In the last couple of years, there has been a noticeable increase in initiatives and programs put into place to improve Veteran Affairs in the United States. With the strong support of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, more initiatives are arising both from the public and private sector. As part of the Joining Forces Campaign, Michelle Obama announced in January 2012, a new commitment from medical schools across the nation was created that will train medical students and focus research on the medical issues that veterans face.4 In 2011, President Obama signed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which would provide varying levels of tax credits, from $2,400 to $9,600 per hire, to businesses that hire post-9/11 U.S. Military Veterans.5 There are also job fairs being held regularly across the country exclusively for veterans. Veterans have an array of technical skills and training which the general public may not possess but which meet the needs of many employers. Furthermore, other public initiatives include Microsoft’s “Elevate America Veterans” which aim to bring together, “public, private, and nonprofit organizations that are interested in contributing expertise, cash, and in-kind resources to help U.S. veterans and their spouses build the skills and access the resources that they need to be successful in today's workforce.”6

There’s still a long way to go in terms of meeting the needs of U.S. Military Veterans and the families of the U.S. Military members who have died while serving their country. The present economic climate in the U.S. poses many challenges but the initiatives undertaken in Veteran Affairs, regardless of their scope of impact, are steps in the right direction. We should always take the initiative to honor our troops and veterans through our support and actions. I am excited and ready to honor my fellow Americans who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces through volunteerism.

Do you have any stories to share about your experience volunteering with a Veterans organization? Are you a veteran that would like to share any great links to resources for fellow veterans?

Some relevant resources and organizations: 

Joining Forces Campaign:

Veterans Job Bank, National Resource Directory:

My Next Move for Veterans:

Military Spouse Employment Partnership:

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America:

Wounded Warrior Project:

United Service Organizations (USO):

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