A veteran is someone who has had experience of being in the field for a long time. A military veteran is a person who has served in the armed forces and has faced direct exposure to military conflicts and war. According to the U.S. Census Bureau report, published in 2014, there are up to 21.8 million veterans of the U.S. armed forces contributing to seven percent of the entire American population. California has the highest number of veterans with approximately two million and Texas and Florida with 1.6 million each. The Vietnam War era, which lasted from 1964-1975, represented 33% of all living Us veterans. During the Gulf War, 5.2 million veterans served in the war, followed by 2.6 million and 2.8 million in World War II and Korean War respectively.
Though women have also served in the military and fought the Vietnam War and others, they are unfortunately considered ‘invisible veterans’. A few local outreach programs are however addressing the needs of female veterans. The ‘Center for Women Veterans’ has also been established by the Congress in 1994. The center works towards raising awareness about women veterans and to treat them with dignity and respect. Betty Moseley Brown was appointed as the associate director of the center in 2004 and has contributed in raising awareness through various campaigns such as ‘Faces behind the War’ and ‘Her Story’.
In 2012, 9.1 percent of US business owners were veterans with a median income of $35,367. The Federal Civil Service, State Civil Service and the local governments prefer veterans over civilians when they’re looking to hire. Brian Kopp from CEB says: ‘Veterans are not only higher performers than average employees, but they are also less likely to turnover.’ In 2013, there was a decline and the number of unemployed veterans reached 722,000. The latest report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that ‘the jobless rate for veterans of the United States’ most recent wars clocks in at almost six percent’. Female vets faced a higher percentage of unemployment rates in comparison with male veterans. At another instance it was reported that ‘approximately 23 percent of America’s homeless population is veterans’.
As television took over like a storm during the Vietnam War era, more and more people started to learn about the wars by having access to pictures of drone pilots and military workers. This lead to a relationship with the veterans which is held dear to many even today. The Veterans Health Administration, (VHA) which comes under the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA or DVA), is an agency designed to provide medical care and services to veterans. Starting in 1930, the VA opened 54 hospitals and continued to expand with 171 medical centers, 126 nursing home care units and 35 live in care facilities for those who are injured or disabled, today. The DVA has given more than $142 million in bonuses in 2014 to work on projects catering to the needs of veterans. Many volunteers offer their services and read to patients; basically by becoming a friend in need. Director of VA’s Voluntary Service Office says ‘The volunteer’s personal dimension of kindness and concern goes to the heart of VA health care.’
Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) takes care of benefits and entitlements for the veterans such as employment, education, compensation and pension. A study by Reiber et al (2007) revealed that ‘veterans who utilized VA for all their health care were more likely to be from disadvantaged groups and were uninsured.’ Volunteers of America of Florida (VOAF) is another nonprofit organization providing services for veterans in need of stability.
Veterans need time to adjust back to civilian life when they come back from war. As they are not used to any other job apart from the military, they may find it hard to modify their own selves and be a part of the regular civilian job market. They would have to learn new skills and practices which are needed on the job and they have missed out on. As the military provides them with the basic necessities and they learn to tough it out during the most difficult circumstances, the typical responsibilities of providing basic food and shelter is new to them and takes time to get used to.
The impact that the war has on them due to killing people, being shot at, getting hit by mortar fire, seeing dead bodies and worrying about their family back home the whole time does not make this transition easy for them. It is a brutal and harsh reality and there are a number of problems that they go through such as heightened stress and trouble concentrating or focusing. They also suffer from sleep problems and develop insomnia. Some experience nightmares where they re-experience the trauma. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness envelope them and they get stuck in a vicious cycle of self blame, negativity and withdrawal. A lot of them indulge in tobacco, drugs and alcohol to feel better and in control of their situation. A study carried out by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that ‘female veterans aged 20 to 39 are far less likely to engage in binge drinking or the use of substances such as cigarettes and illicit drugs than male veterinarians of the same age group’.
Many also go on and develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the severity of the trauma. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 31 percent of Vietnam veterans and 10 percent of Gulf War veterans were affected by PTSD. Some manage to eventually get over the shock but for others it is not that easy to do so. Memories of the war haunt them with sights and sounds of the battlefield reminding them of their traumatic experience.
Apart from this there have been other health issues that the veterans have faced. Agent Orange and other herbicides were sprayed during the Vietnam War from 1961-1972 which later led to serious health diseases. President George Bush also signed the law regarding Agent Orange Act to help veterans receive treatment service for their exposure to Agent Orange. According to VA, ‘Agent Orange contained minute traces of 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-doxin (TCDD). Studies done on dioxin have shown serious health issues such as heart diseases, birth defects, inflammation, and development of cancer, Parkinson’s disease and muscular dysfunction.’
Friday, November 11, has officially been declared as Veterans Day and is counted as a federal holiday. It is a day to pay our tribute to those who have given their lives for us and their country, both living and dead, and a way to a say a special thanks to these honorable men and the courage they have displayed. Many small companies and businesses have shown their support with Starbucks offering a free tall brewed coffee for all US veterans and their spouses and Krispy Kreme handing out free doughnuts and coffees to anyone who identifies themselves as a veteran.
Just recently on April 7, 2016, an all Veteran Career Fair was held in Austin by Disabled American Veterans (DAV) which aimed to provide lifetime support for veterans of all generations as well as their families.