Americans tend to think of issues in cycles every two to four years. Every four years Americans' attention is focused on a few key topics as presidential elections get into high gear. Sometimes that includes foreign policy while other times domestic issues. And in the in-between years we move on, but either way, the daily problems facing returning veterans are little more than a footnote.
You can't blame the candidates for this. In the abstract, every politician agrees we should help those who serve our country to ensure they have adequate health care and a pathway back to the private sector, but the way to measure this is not with sentiments. It's with facts.
- According to the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless veterans in 2012 is roughly 60,000.
- Based on a recent report from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of unemployed veterans in 2012 is more than 68,000.
- According to the U.S. Department of Defense, there are over 47,000 wounded veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These facts aren't something we can ignore because they're not abstract; behind these numbers are people and families. Yet, as a group of voters, veterans are at a disadvantage in the game of politics. While they are on active duty under our military regulations they are not supposed to engage in politicking or endorse one candidate over another. And as a group they vary in age, race, gender and regional lines. Veterans look like all of America and live everywhere in America, but this breadth can also hinder them because they are not a reliable voting bloc.
The veteran vote is not in all one geographical location either. It's not monolithic as veterans cross partisan lines and often may disagree with each other, making them a harder vote to target. Unfortunately, this means that while other issues get candidates' attention during presidential years, the issues facing veterans are all too often left off the ballot.
That's where you come in. We can't depend on politicians to address these issues unless they matter to everyone. Regardless of whether you are a veteran or not, it should matter to you that those who selflessly protect our freedom and defend our nation get the care they deserve and the help they need. And we can't rely on politics to fix these problems on its own. Nonprofits, charities and communities need to come together and do their part to make sure veterans have happy, healthy, and productive lives when they return.
As head of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFed Foundation), a nonprofit working to meet the unmet needs of military personnel and their families, I have seen the help that individuals can give and I oversee the kinds of beneficial programs that nonprofits run to assist veterans and their families.
At the foundation, we are building the new Defenders Lodge in California, which will be funded entirely through private donations and serve as a free hotel for wounded veterans undergoing outpatient medical treatment at the VA hospital in Palo Alto. The lodge will be donated to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We are also continuing to ramp up our programs including those helping wounded warriors with basic services like child care, as well as providing emergency loans and financial counseling to service members and veterans, and home ownership aid so military members and veterans along with their families can obtain the American dream of owning their first home.
Veterans have to be in a win column for all the candidates and across all party lines. This is one thing we all can and should agree on.
Christopher J. Flynn is president and CEO of the PenFed Foundation, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization working to meet the unmet needs of military personnel and their families through supporting wounded soldiers, providing financial management assistance, and home ownership aid. The foundation is also the primary sponsor of the new $11 million Defenders Lodge supported by donated land from the government and financed entirely through private donations. www.penfedfoundation.org.