On Tuesday, May 8, Volunteers of America hosted After the Uniform: Serving the Veterans Who Served Us, a panel discussion which focused on the critical challenges facing today’s returning veterans. The event, was the latest program in part of a three-year conversation focused on highlighting the obstacles facing veterans, identifying solutions, and issuing concrete policy recommendations. The panel focused on the transition process and the need for community involvement. Moderated by David Gregory of NBC’s Meet the Press, panelists included Barbara Banaszynski , Volunteers of America Senior Vice President, Program Operations; Betty Moseley Brown, Associate Director, U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs Center for Women Veterans; General Barry McCaffrey, USA (Ret.), former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and current NBC News Analyst; and, Lee Woodruff, cofounder of The Bob Woodruff Foundation and wife of ABC News journalist and anchor, Bob Woodruff.
The panel discussed key differences between today’s service members compared to previous generations of veterans whose service experiences were driving forces behind the institutional framework of current veteran support services. Unlike previous conflicts, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan represent less than one percent of the total U.S. population. A smaller all volunteer force means today’s war-fighters face multiple deployments. While the strategic benefit is a battle hardened force of combat veterans, the personal toll on the service member is undeniable and ultimately unacceptable. Transition back to the home front, especially for Reservists and Guardsmen, has been chief among these untenable issues. Perhaps more than any preceding generation, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are returning home to an uncertain future: an unstable economy, murky employment prospects, wavering public support and an imperfect science to diagnosing and treating signature combat wounds all await our heroes here at home. Emphasizing that these men and women make up less than one percent of the nation’s population, it is easy for them, as Lee Woodruff put it, “slip into the sunset.”
Absent a comprehensive nation-wide initiative to address these lingering inequities, many veterans must take matters into their own hands. However, after coming home from several deployments, many veterans do not want to deal with going through the process. They do not want to dial and wait for a voice on the other end of the 800 number. They do not want to do the tedious and lengthy paperwork. And, most importantly they cannot wait for the delay in getting assistance. The matters then fall into the family’s hands to go through the necessary steps to receive the attention and support. Even by following the prescribed motions, many family members face obstacles and closed doors, compounded by the logistics of third party support.
Clearly, there is a need as Brown stated for a “seamless transition,” in which veterans receive the fastest, most thorough care. With deference to the scale and complexity of these challenges, panelists conceded: the VA cannot do it alone. Banaszynki urged corporations, non-profits, and individuals to step in and take the initiative to aid veterans. This aid can be as small as taking a military spouse out to lunch, to taking a few names of veterans who need assistance to veteran support organizations. It’s when there is a lack of assistance to veterans that they and the whole country fail. Best stated by Lee Woodruff: “What a great country does is take care if its own.”
How will you make this country great and take care of its own? What should ROA do to achieve a seamless transition for those who have sacrificed so much?