Column: American veterans deserve more than symbolic recognition

Katie Smith, Online Editor

For many U.S. veterans the return home is the beginning of a new battle entirely.

This battle is psychologically isolating, financially depriving, and undeserving.

Of the 9.8 million veterans estimated to have served during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam era, only 30 percent were in the labor force in 2013.

Those veterans in particular with a service-connected disability had an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent only slightly lower than that of veterans without a disability.

This, in tangent with the high suicide rate of American veterans, is an indication of a flawed practice of honoring a group of people who – while in duty – we praise for practicing bravery and patriotism.

The daily trials of life alone can be consuming and defeating, let alone without being plagued by war-induced post-traumatic stress disorder and the financial burdens of medical attention required in the years to follow their homecomings.

At an average age of 19, men and women who served in Vietnam braved the physically and emotionally exhausting conditions of war. Today, at 55 years and older, we have done poorly to provide them with the gratitude and basic living conditions they deserve.

One day out of every year, Americans hang flags above their porches and take a unified moment of silence out of respect for those who have served in war.

While these symbolic gestures are kind and good-intentioned, they do little to improve the quality of life of the people we are supposed to be honoring — the same people may be one of the more than 300,000 veterans living on the street or sleeping in a shelter on any given night.

The leading cause for homelessness among veterans is a lack of income that can be attributed to limited education and transferable skills from military to civilian life.

This is especially true for younger veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In order for our veterans to reintegrate into civilian life, it is important we provide them with the necessary emotional and medical support to do so.

And if that isn’t something we can personally and directly provide, we can make an effort to remember on a regular basis that these individuals have given a lot.

Whether or not we agree with the circumstances under which they served, and regardless of age, sex, or creed, our veterans deserve more than one day of genuine respect and gratitude.

Katie Smith is a senior journalism and English major. She can be reached at 581-7912 or [email protected].