Optimistic Futurist: Thanking veterans takes more than parades and prayer

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 1, 2013

This Thanksgiving holiday will find many families gathering around a shared meal, giving thanks, including thanks to the members of the military for keeping us safe. And that will be that.
It isn’t enough. There is more to be done.
Charlotte is one of a few communities nationally with an organization that has turned a spotlight on the issue of how we as a nation say thanks, and has successfully done something about it.
Tommy Norman, a Charlotte-area Vietnam-era veteran, became aware of the current barriers faced by newly returning vets when he tried to help a newly returned wounded warrior assume a civilian lifestyle. Even from the vantage point of a mature successful civilian entrepreneur and civic leader, he saw the path forward these days is beyond confusing. Forty-seven percent of those returning vets who were surveyed by the Pew Research center rated their return to civilian life as “difficult.”
Norman stepped up and founded an effort that became the Charlotte Bridge Home, which provides a range of support to returning veterans.

The more the staff worked with veterans, the more they became convinced improvement in re-entry support was needed on a national level. The Charlotte Bridge Home facilitated a comprehensive study of the situation and discovered some stunning facts.
Over 2.5 million Americans served in uniform in either Iraq or Afghanistan. A third of them were deployed more than once, and 400,000 were deployed three or more times. The casualty rate is high. Of the 2.5 million who served there, 1.6 million have been discharged. Of those discharged, 670,000 have qualified for some level of disability — about two out of every five.
There are more than 55,000 veterans — one in 13 adults — living in Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located. More than you would think are young, and about one-third of them served in Iraq or Afghanistan. One in five homeless people in the Charlotte area is a veteran. One in five younger vets is female — and these female vets are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. The unemployment rate among Charlotte area veterans is one and a half times that of non-veterans.
While programs to assist veterans do exist, getting veterans registered for them can be painfully slow due to insufficient staff at Veterans Administration offices. As of Nov. 25, the Veterans Administration reported that nationally, 696,000 such applications are “pending” and 390,000 of those were four months old or older. In North Carolina, the backlog is in the range of 9-10 months. This situation was made worse by the October shutdown of the government for 16 days.

According to the Department of Defense, almost one-third of the returning vets examined were diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress syndrome because these recent wars have our troops living among hostile people who literally surround them and attempt to inflict injury in random, constant attacks. The impacts of PTSD can be reduced if proper care is given … but most vets do not know of their options and need a hand to get the help they deserve.
The Charlotte Bridge Home staff who took up the challenge to make our society better not only reached out and provided service to the vets and their families — they hosted an area-wide gathering to identify holes in the array of existing services, improve coordination and increase impact — with stunning results. More than 400 interested people showed up, including those representing 26 military and government agencies, 25 not-for-profit organizations and 66 companies. Working together, they developed a plan filled with locally implementable and replicable solutions to our national problem.
The leadership of the Charlotte Bridge Home has recognized that the local problem/opportunity they are working on exists in other communities all across the United States. They are working hard to make both the problem and the solution available to other communities. That is a kind of patriotism we can all be thankful for.
So do more than bow your head at Thanksgiving. Take one step forward.
Francis P. Koster lives in Kannapolis and is the author of “Discovering the New America: Where Local Communities Are Solving National Problems.” To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org