Jennifer Nagorka: Veterans Day | KERA News

Jennifer Nagorka: Veterans Day

Dallas, TX –

Veterans Day honors members of the nation's military, past and present. But commentator Jennifer Nagorka says there's more we can do for vets after they've left the service.

The World War II generation of veterans is disappearing quickly now. Old age claims hundreds of these former fighters each day.

As the number of elderly veterans shrinks, the number of younger combat veterans is surging. These are the men and women who fought in Operation Enduring Freedom the war focused in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, now called Operation New Dawn.

At least 270,000 Texas-based military personnel have been deployed since 9/11. More than 500 of them died for these wars. Service members who've made it home alive face significant challenges reintegrating back into their families and communities.

Their experiences isolate them. During World War II, more than one out of ten Americans served in uniform. In the past decade, it's fewer than one out of 100.

Even other veterans may not understand what their younger comrades have endured. Today's all-volunteer military is better educated and older than the conscription forces of Vietnam, and more are married and have children. They've faced longer, more frequent deployments with less time at home in between. Those repeated deployments often have strained family relationships and caused financial hardships.

Then there's the economy. Like many Americans, the newest vets are having trouble finding jobs. Nationally, the unemployment rate for younger veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is three to five points higher than that of the general population. The unemployment rate is almost 21 percent for vets age 24 and under.

We know the bleak economy has been especially cruel to all workers just entering the labor market. But advocates for veterans say returning servicemembers face additional hurdles that civilians don't. Most employers aren't familiar with military occupational training and don't know how to weigh it as part of a hiring process. A soldier may have driven tankers full of fuel under fire in Afghanistan, but he doesn't have a commercial drivers license so he can't work as a truck driver stateside without additional often expensive training, one veteran's advocate said.

Some employers may steer clear of hiring veterans because they view former fighters as "damaged goods." Widely publicized studies have shown that more than 20 percent of all recent vets struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and/or the lingering effects of traumatic brain injuries. These so-called "invisible wounds" are real and leave some former warriors with lifelong disabilities.

But the majority of veterans don't have brain injuries or PTSD. They go through an adjustment period as they adapt to civilian life and then they move on. For vets who have suffered concussions or PTSD, time and appropriate treatment can help enormously. Veterans don't deserve the stigma of being unreliable or unbalanced anymore than the victim of a drunk driving accident or a college kid who takes a hit playing football.

In fact, people who work with veterans argue strongly that former military personnel can make especially productive employees. Veterans have been drilled on the basics: be on time, be neat, take orders and work as a team. Some former servicemembers have been trained to use and maintain the most advanced technology in the world. They can perform under pressure.

This Veterans Day, if you want to honor veterans' service to our country, hire one.

Jennifer Nagorka is a writer from Dallas.

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