News that a Hermiston graduate serving in the Marine Corps lost part of his leg and hand to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan last month helped drive home a reminder of the toll more than a decade of war has taken on our troops.
Weve heard the numbers: 2,162 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan, 4,487 in Iraq and more than 50,000 listed as wounded by the Department of Defense. Sometimes, however, its easy to forget the toll that extends beyond death and lost limbs. Returning home in one piece is far from a guarantee of reintegrating smoothly back into civilian life.
Casey Allison, the injured Marine just beginning his long road back to such a life, is a son, husband, father and neighbor, but certainly not a statistic.
The Department of Veterans Affairs reports a backlog of 400,000 cases in which veterans have applied for benefits but have been waiting at least four months for their claims to be processed. A survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed its members were waiting an average of 260 days almost nine months for a decision.
By temporarily hiring extra workers the department has reduced that backlog from the 600,000 it had last March. But our veterans deserve a more permanent and effective solution. Congress should take into account several suggestions by veterans groups, including a mandate that other government agencies respond to the VAs requests for information in a timely manner and an overhaul of the departments electronic filing system.
Veterans who are able to work also report difficulty finding jobs as they face employers afraid a former soldier will make for an emotionally unstable employee. Post-Sept. 11 veterans unemployment rates are consistently higher than the general populations.
First Lady Michelle Obamas Joining Forces initiative has the right idea: Numerous American corporations, from Home Depot to Wal-Mart, have made pledges that, if realized, will result in the hiring and training of an additional 435,000 veterans in the next five years. Its a start, but it would be nice to see more companies, especially small businesses and those in a position to provide higher-wage jobs, to not just make the same commitment but then act on it.
We need to clear hurdles to employment where possible, including a look at industries like welding and commercial trucking, in which veterans complain they are required by law to complete civilian trainings and certifications that the military has already trained them to do.
As a society we should also be keeping an eye on which troop support programs prove to be most effective and replicate them in our own communities where possible. Team Rubicon, for example, gives former servicemen and women a continued sense of purpose by deploying them to help clean up natural disasters. Other programs help returning soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder or help military families adjust to their loved ones return.
If entering adulthood by way of military service puts our returning veterans at a disadvantage, the least we can do is help right that imbalance.