This Veterans Day, I call on Congress to pay a great deal more than lip service to treating America's service men and women -- those who sacrifice their own safety for the love and protection of our great country -- with the respect they deserve. Over the coming years more than one million military personnel will return from Iraq and Afghanistan. They did not hesitate when asked to answer the call to duty, and it is now our obligation to answer that same call of duty to welcome them, honor their service, and ensure they succeed back here at home. To do anything less is simply un-patriotic and un-American.
To do that, we have some significant trends of neglect to reverse. Today, over 850,000 veterans are unemployed -- a jobless rate dramatically higher than the national average. It is estimated that over 100,000 veterans are homeless, with hundreds of thousands more at risk of homelessness. The Rand Corporation estimates that over 18% of returning veterans will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or severe depression, and the rate of suicide for returning veterans is twice the national average.
As a nation, we can and must do better in honoring the men and women who have sacrificed so much. I call on Congress and the president to begin this Veterans Day by agreeing on four core patriotic policies to support America's veterans:
- First, make sure that every returning veteran has the ability to find a job, or has the ability to pursue and complete their education in order to find that job. The president's recent Jobs Act allocates tax credits to companies that hire veterans and provides even greater incentives for companies that employ disabled veterans. Congress needs to pass this portion of the bill immediately and in a bi-partisan manner.
- Begin to address the number of homeless and at-risk veterans and promote greater economic security. The administration and Congress must immediately write and pass laws to provide veterans and their families with assistance in refinancing their homes, or in obtaining access to low-interest loans with which to purchase foreclosed or vacant homes.
- As a doctor who has worked in the VA system, I know we must fully fund the VA's medical programs, so that we can provide the medical and rehabilitative services necessary to help our veterans return to a full and productive life. It is not only unpatriotic but immoral to consider cutting these critical services, while Congress continues unnecessary things like oil subsidies.
- With the dramatic increase in PTSD and suicide, health services for veterans must include necessary mental health and counseling care -- both for our troops and their families. Congress should vote immediately to fund mental health services at a level that adequately addresses the recent increase in PTSD and suicide.
Americans understand and wish to fulfill our moral obligation to those who have risked life and limb for our country. Yet legislation that would put these values into action languishes in Congress, stalled by petty bickering and gridlock. On this Veterans Day, I call on our representatives in Congress to immediately set aside partisanship and demonstrate to our troops that America will act as honorably toward them as they have toward us.