On a domestic flight a few years ago I sat next to a friendly man dressed in Army fatigues. We chatted a little, then I tried to absorb myself in my book. But I couldn’t, because I felt too cold. So the soldier next to me shared his coat, and I accepted it, despite my pride.
At the time I felt very awkward about how to act towards men and women in the service, and I maintain mixed feelings about US military policies. When I shared an armrest with that nice soldier on the plane, I kept seeing flashes of all the policy and news reports about the war in Iraq, rather than fully engaging with the individual next to me. I wished I had thanked him for his service as well has his coat.
Now that I’m several years older (and maybe a little wiser) I better appreciate that soldier’s generosity in risking his life in the line of duty. But I worry that the US doesn’t have the tools to support returning soldiers. I didn’t previously consider veterans a minority or vulnerable population, but in some respects they are both. People in the active military in the US make up about 1 percent of the population, and veterans make up about 7 percent of the population (as of 2010). As for their vulnerability, some veterans return home injured (physically and/or mentally), and those who aren’t injured still have to deal with the stigma and suspicion of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The departure of US troops from Afghanistan has raised a number of issues for veterans here at home, especially in job searches. They struggle to find work, in part because their military credentials do not always transfer to civilian credentials. John Stewart on the Daily Show posed mock interviews for two medics with heroic credentials. Neither of them hold certificates or degrees to officially qualify them to serve as a school nurse – and yet both saved lives of fellow soldiers and received the sufficient medical training to do so.
Michelle Obama is among many others in the US in running initiatives to serve the military personnel who served us. The New York Times just posted a story outlining the growth of organizations that support veterans, suggesting that perhaps that the US can’t handle any more such groups. At least there is activity in that realm.
The US is faced with a growing, though small population of servicemen and women who deserve a fair shot in the job market and appreciation from the government and civilians they served.
Thank you to those who served and those still serving.