One of the saddest facts about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that so many soldiers leave the battlefield with one question: where do I go for help? Most soldiers do not know who to call. I know this because for the last four years, many have been calling me.
Day and night my cell phone lights up with another unknown number, another soldier in crisis reaching out for help. A soldier with shrapnel embedded in his skin who can't convince the military that he is wounded and in need of medical care. A female soldier about to be discharged for reporting sexual harassment. A young vet growing ill as his case creeps through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The need is enormous. Since 2001, over 530,000 soldiers have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a better world, those vets could turn to the VA to solve their problems. But for so many soldiers, the VA is the problem. Its paperwork is more daunting than the IRS', its first available doctor's appointment is often months away, and to collect disability benefits, the wounded soldier has to prove his wounds came from war.
Anxious and unsure where to turn, hundreds of soldiers have turned to me, a magazine reporter who covers veterans' issues. I tell the soldiers: "I'm a journalist, not an advocate. I tell soldiers' stories; I don't represent them in court." While that is true, it's an awful reply to a soldier in need. And it has always left me feeling hollow.
The obvious solution, I thought, would be directing these soldiers towards the excellent veterans organizations established to assist Iraq and Afghan vets. But as it turns out, it's not so simple. Most of those groups are designed to lobby Congress, not to help individual soldiers. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has done extraordinary work on Capitol Hill, successfully pushing Congress to pass a new G.I. Bill, but it doesn't have case workers to assist soldiers with their disability claims. Neither does the Iraq War Veterans Organization. Or Veterans for Common Sense. So where should these soldiers turn?
This month I set out to answer that question. With help from the great Bob Handy, chairman of Veterans United for Truth, I compiled this list of 27 resources for veterans in need, from the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline to legal resources, like Lawyers Serving Warriors and the Veterans Pro Bono Consortium.
If you're a veteran, click here and download this list of organizations offering you assistance. If you know a military family, forward the list to them. Let's make sure every military family in America has a copy of this list. Together we can make sure that awful questionwhere do I turn for help?never plagues another soldier again.
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This story is part of Military Families Week, an effort by HuffPost and AOL to put a spotlight on issues affecting America's families who serve. Find more at jobs.aol.com/militaryfamilies and aol.com.