“After a decade of war, the nation that we need to build–and the nation that we will build–is our own.”–President Barack Obama
After eight years and over 4,400 deaths, President Obama has announced that the remaining 39,000 U.S. service men and women in Iraq will be back on U.S. soil by the end of the year. This essentially brings to a close a nearly decade-long war that the President opposed from the start and vowed to end. The only other official who resisted the war–in word and in deed (a no-vote)–was Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Now that the nation is experiencing economic turmoil–in unemployment, massive foreclosures resulting in an increase in the homeless population, what’s the plan for these returning soldiers in addition to the approximately 32,000 who were wounded, and need care. The situation is dire. This came as welcome news for our troops and their families who have sacrificed so much in what has been increasingly viewed as an ill-advised and costly military fiasco, yet to date, no one has been held to account for the ill-advised and costly military fiasco.
It is unconscionable that any man or woman who goes abroad to fight our wars–or even those who stayed at home in supportive military roles–has to come home or return to civilian life, and fight for a job. But sadly that is the case. While overall unemployment remains unacceptably high at 9.1 percent, post-9/11 veterans suffer from a jobless rate of nearly 13 percent. That is why the President’s American Jobs Act includes a $5,600 tax credit for businesses that hire veterans who have been unemployed for six months or longer. The nation owes a big debt of gratitude to the more than one million Americans who have been deployed to Iraq since the start of the war in March, 2003.
And it has been historic that whatever ails the dominant society, Black America is impacted and suffers at a greater rate.
According to one veteran who was discharged in 2007, the first thing a returning vet should do is “secure unemployment benefits which will provide immediate cash flow. The next item is to establish contact with the local Veteran’s Administration office in Westwood or Long Beach, California, to obtain the full menu of benefit entitlements for which any veteran may be eligible.” This may include health and medical benefits, housing assistance, and personal counseling, if it is needed. This may sound simple but to some vets, transitioning from military to civilian life is tantamount to relocating to a foreign country.
According to Urban League’s president, Marc Morial, “The President deserves our thanks for ensuring that our troops will be home for the holidays. Now it is up to Congress to honor their service and every American who wants to work by passing the American Jobs Act now.”
Easier said than done!
The Sentinel spoke to Regina Benois, a young African American veteran, and a single mother of three, who depends on her veteran’s benefits to survive. She said, “I was a medic; I was one who trained others to help when people were missing. A lot of people do not understand that there was a lot of crap going on.”
Notwithstanding, she said, “even though you are not on the battlefield, as the ancillary help, you are the backbone that facilitate those soldiers in the field.” Then she added graphically, “you (meaning her) are the one who makes the decision when someone gets shot, whether he’ll lose the leg or not … and that’s very important.”
Now that she’s a civilian once more and depends on her military pension to take care of her basic needs, she said that she was not prepared for the hardships that she is presently experiencing with the training she received in the military. She continued, “all the qualifications, all the certifications, all the awards … everything you work hard for… those awards on paper … it doesn’t count for crap.”
That may be one soldier’s account of her experiences … but whether she’s right or wrong, it is apparent that is how she feels, and it is what she is experiencing now. So if any percentage of the 39,000 soldiers who are returning from Iraq, falls into that category, then that will be an additional burden to the fragile economic climate presently existing in the country.