How best to honor our service members?

The Obama administration has proposed an expanded budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2011. It has yet to be approved. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki tells of the department’s expanded capbility to provide benefits. Yet new claims rise even faster. Veterans diagnosed with PTSD no longer have to prove that it was from combat-related stress, and there are more than 3500 government PTSD specialists and 150 hospitals around the country with trained therapists. 50% of veterans still avoid seeking treatment.

So how best to honor our service members?

First, let your veterans know that you care; that you value their sacrifice and will support them in readjusting to life after war, no matter what that entails. Respect them just the same.

Second, make sure that the new Congress also stands by our veterans. Riding a wave of popul(ist)ar support, many legislators feel their sole goal is to cut “wasteful” government spending. There is waste, but the VA is not one such agency. It certainly has its problems, as a brief overview of the comments on the VA’s maiden blog will reveal. But where else do veterans have to turn if these programs are cut? 100,000 homeless veterans will have a hard time finding private support of the sort they need. Write your congresspeople and demand that they approve the new budget for the VA. Insist that the issue isn’t simply about more or less spending, but about wiser spending. Our veterans deserve at least as much.

And just a little personal wish for the future of our returning veterans:

I would like to see programs which not only provide physical and mental health services and grants for education, but programs which help veterans reorient their thinking to reflect life in a large, relatively democratic, and differentiated society. Our military rightly teaches men and women confidence and boldness in decision-making; indeed such an attitude is necessary when going into a combat situation. But life in civil society is far more clumsy and uncertain. Too often I have heard former service members make sweeping pronouncements regarding what is “right” based solely on the fact that they were in the military, even though what they were declaiming was at best only very tangentially related to military service. In short, while it is important that soldiers be taught how to act decisively in combat, it is equally as important that they be taught how to weigh valid and competing perspectives and not just boldly go with what their instincts tell them. Then they participate more fully – and indeed be leaders – in our communities, rather than become sullen and resentful of a society which they feel rejects them.

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