Veterans Day: The Treatment of America’s Heroes

Veteran’s Day is meant to remember soldiers, both fallen and alive, who have fought in all the American conflicts. But, the parades and festivities often shroud the real purpose the holiday. After all, we have the day off work or school because we are supposed to be celebrating the men and women who have kept us free. Frankly, there’s no reason that private citizens, and the government for that matter, shouldn’t be thinking this way all year round.

Approximately 75 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the military, and it’s not uncommon to see various organizations donating to services for veterans especially around this time of year. In fact, this year, the NFL, in the midst of controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem, gave five dollars to non-profit charities every time someone tweeted or retweeted #SalutetoService.

That said, governmental treatment of veterans has changed since the days of FDR’s first G.I. Bill. At one time, these people were given sufficient resources for the rest of their life. Now, the circumstances are different. There have been efforts to improve quality of life for veterans, but there are still serious issues within the veteran community.

For starters, there is an epidemic of homelessness and unemployment among veterans after they serve. According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, about 11 percent of homeless adults are veterans, and this problem disproportionately affects veterans of color. Many of these veterans also have mental illnesses, usually a form of PTS, or substance abuse issues. Homelessness within the veteran community is not a new phenomenon, but it is a troubling one. According to Psychology Today, “While the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) has spent decades attempting to address veteran homelessness,  it remains unclear how effective their programs have been to date given the number of veterans living on the street.”

More disturbing, the Department of Veterans Affairs was involved in a scandal in 2014. Wait times were so long in Phoenix, Arizona that at least 40 people died as a result of not being seen on time. These events led to the resignation of VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki. Later, the new VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, compared the wait times to those in “Disneyland.” Obviously, these scandals and comments were upsetting to veterans and patriotic Americans alike. Bureaucratic corruption in an institution so critical to our nation’s heroes is unacceptable.

In a rare, fairly noncontroversial move hailed by many conservatives, President Trump passed reforms to the Veterans Affairs office to prevent continued corruption early in his term. As well, the Forever G.I. Bill, passed unanimously through both the House and the Senate before being signed by the President. This bill made significant changes to the educational benefits that veterans receive.

Veterans’ healthcare is one of the largest areas in which we could still improve. According to the Heritage Foundation, Veteran Affairs currently runs as a federal single-payer healthcare system with eight priority tiers. Of course, single-payer healthcare has several general detriments like longer wait-times and lower quality of services because everyone is brought to the same level. CNN published an opinion column in September of this year detailing these failures of single-payer healthcare. The system we have in place obviously isn’t as extreme because it applies to a smaller group of people, but these problems still exist. To improve the health – both mental and physical – of our veterans, Congress must work to expand veterans’ options for healthcare in the private sector whether that be by providing grants or access to military HSAs instead of immediate enrollment in the single-payer system.

Also in the private sector, it’s imperative that nonprofits and private citizens step in for our veterans where the government doesn’t. Organizations like Operation Gratitude are charities that directly assist veterans in need with essential goods or services.

It’s simply unacceptable that we allow ex-servicemen and women to suffer from PTS, homelessness, and unemployment without true assistance from Veteran Affairs when they have given up parts of their lives to preserve the American lifestyle and culture. We can’t just think of our veterans once a year, our current armed forces on another, and fallen soldiers on a third. Our servicemen and women – past and present, alive and fallen – need to be in politicians’ and Americans’ minds all year round. Veterans are not an interest group that we could cater to; they are a demographic of our best and bright that we must reward and help.

About Karly Matthews

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Karly Matthews grew up in a tiny Pennsylvania suburb before trading in the corn fields for the streets of North Philadelphia. Karly is a Future Female Leaders Cabinet Member and is the Deputy Communications Director for the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans. On campus, Karly is involved with the Temple University College Republicans and serves as the President for the Network of Enlightened Women at Temple. Currently a sophomore, Karly is studying journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish.