Thanking our veterans is simply not enough

By Keith Spencer

Today, many will mark the Veterans Day holiday by attending a memorial service or parade. Others will observe a moment of silence at 11AM, but most will offer a gesture of thanks to their local hero, some in person and others via the web.

While each of these is an honorable act, thanking our veterans is simply not enough.

At a time when soldiers are returning home to a disparaging economic climate, business owners and leaders in our government must act to ensure their return to civilian life is as easy as possible. As we wind down our involvement in Afghanistan, the longest war in our nation’s history, we must make this even more of a priority.

This is clearly not an easy task.

First and foremost, no veteran should have to continue fighting upon their return, battling for an opportunity to become employed. Roughly one in four of 2.1 million federal employees is a veteran, according to statistics compiled by the Office of Personnel Management. The agency also suggests that more than 1 million federal jobs are tied to supporting the military — either at the Pentagon or other security agencies.

President Obama and the federal government cannot spearhead this effort alone. As a result, the Commander and Chief has challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans. Congress made this a bit easier yesterday, passing the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior tax credits which provides tax credits to businesses that hire veterans.

We cheer Massachusetts Senator Scott who long-championed this legislation as a service member himself, especially as the unemployment rate of veterans discharged after 2001 rises over 12%, much higher than the national average.

The Obama Administration has also launched a host of other initiatives to help connect veterans with jobs and career support.

If you’re not a business owner, there is a plethora of options that go beyond the simple thank you.

As NoBo continues to focus on thinking and living locally, there may be ways to address the needs of homeless or disabled veterans in and around your community. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has made it a priority to bring an end to the continued high rate of homelessness and poverty among veterans. The help of local communities and charities is essential in these efforts. For more information about your local Veterans Services Officer, visit the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services websiteto learn how you can help in your community.

Numerous organizations make it a priority to help our wounded and disabled veterans. You can support many of these organizations by volunteering your time and skills as well as offering monetary donations. In Massachusetts, residents can support: Massachusetts Disabled American Veterans, The VA Boston Healthcare System, The Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, SoldierOn, Homes for Our Troops, Ramps for VetsStrong Families Strong Forces, The Massachusetts Vietnam War Memorial, and many more.

For those who want to see, hear, and feel their impact, volunteering at a VA hospital where veterans of all wars seek health care and support. More than likely, there is a VA hospital in or around your community. Many of the hospitalized may not have family or anyone to visit them, and a few hours each week or month can make a major impact.

VA hospitals are also looking for simple donations on a daily basis. These small items can help make a major difference where many patients are on fixed incomes and unable to buy things that would aid in their recovery. Items may include magazines, coffee and cookies, new or gently used clothing, and/or telephone cards.

For more information on VA hospitals, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website.

At the very least, do some research and get informed on national, state, and local VA issues. Use the power of the people to demand that our elected representatives on Beacon Hill or in the Capital take care of all our soldiers. For information on elected leaders in Massachusetts, click here. To find your representative in Washington, click here.

For more information about what you can do to help, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs Volunteer website.

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