When the first members of Oregon's Army National Guard began returning from Iraq last weekend family, friends and neighbors literally lined up to welcome them home. 110 motorcyclists escorted the caravan of buses along a route lined with Oregonians holding signs to show their support. Parents, spouses and children rushed to embrace their loved ones, while elected officials -- such as myself -- offered words of thanks for the ten months these brave men and women spent serving their country in harm's way. I hope Oregon's Guard got the message that we are grateful for their service and glad to have them home safe.
Oregonians aren't the only ones who recognize the extraordinary service and sacrifice of their state's National Guard. For decades these scenes have repeatedly played out across the country as reservists and guardsmen and women have increasingly been called on for extended deployments. During the Vietnam War 3,000 reservists and guardsmen were called to duty. For Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, 267,300 reserve component service men and women were called to service. Current Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq had already involved more than 760,000 guard and reservists.
However, unlike active duty service members -- who come home to military bases and the jobs and support systems that they provide -- once the fanfare of homecoming subsides, returning Guard members are in many instances left to face the increasingly stark reality of transitioning to civilian life on their own.
Even under the best of circumstances, the road back from war is difficult. Men and women who have served in harm's way experience higher rates of divorce and suicide. Many battle the debilitating effects and stigma associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But in today's struggling economy, more than half of the guard members and reservists returning home are finding that the jobs and careers they put on hold to serve their country no longer exist. To compound the problem, not only are more and more of our troops facing unemployment, once home, guard members and reservists are immediately taken off the military payroll.
Imagine that reality for a second. You left your home, your family and your job to serve your country in harm's way for ten months only to be welcomed back with no job and no source of income to pay for your home or support your family. My home state of Oregon is facing the largest group of returning veterans since the Second World War -- at a time when our state is also experiencing one of the higher unemployment rates in the country. Our country owes our returning warriors who served their country in time of war the help they need to transition to civilian life.
Because, like many states, Oregon doesn't have a military base, we've worked to create an online community to help our National Guard reintegrate. In addition to using fortoregon.com as a hub for Oregon's support services, we've used it as a base for connecting potential employers with returning guard members looking for jobs. We are hopeful that we can get many of these brave men and women back to work quickly. However, the challenges that they are facing make it clear that steps need to be taken on the national level to ensure that returning guardsmen and women aren't hung out to dry financially when they get home.
This is why I introduced legislation to allow reservists and members of the National Guard to continue to receive their full base pay for up to 90 days after they return home from an active duty deployment. In addition to easing the financial burden of transitioning home, the "National Guard and Reserve Soft Landing Reintegration Act" will ensure that returning guard and reservists in Oregon and around the country have access to reintegration services that include mental health support and job placement assistance. I believe this is the very least a grateful country can do for its citizen soldiers.
I am proud to say that this week progress has been made in our effort to make soft landing a reality. The Senate Budget Committee Chairman, Kent Conrad included a reserve fund for soft landing in the Chairman's Mark of the FY 2011 federal budget that the Senate is marking-up this week. This distinction does not create the program but would give Congress the green light to move this legislation forward. With the funding there, it's just a matter of lining up the cosponsors and the votes necessary to make the "Reserve Soft Landing Reintegration Act" law. For example, I look forward to working with Senator Patty Murray -- a longtime champion of veterans' issues -- who this week introduced the bipartisan "Veterans Employment Act," which, coupled with soft landing, would go a long way toward getting our service members the support they need when they come home.
Now, I am prepared for the hard slog that it is going to take to get this legislation through Congress. It is the least I can do to for these service members. But they could use your help as well. Call or write your Senators and Representatives and tell them to support "The National Guard and Reserve Soft Landing Reintegration Act" (S.1426 in the Senate and H.R. 3358 in the House.) These men and women put their lives on the line for us. Let's give them the support they've earned when they get home.
Thank you in advance for your help.
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