Former President George W. Bush has remained out of the spotlight over past few years, but in a recent public appearance he took the time to call out the 99 percent of the population that has never had to make a personal sacrifice for their country over the country’s lack of resources for returning veterans.
The challenges faced by veterans are real. Take it from me, the spouse of a U.S. Navy veteran. My husband completed his military service in May of 2013 and is now facing a reality he wasn’t trained for: civilian life.
The former president didn’t mince words; indeed, his statement may serve as a much-needed wake-up call for a population that, on balance, doesn’t know what it takes to keep them safe. During his remarks, Bush lamented the increasingly severe gulf between the general public and America’s service members.
The former president cited his experience speaking to veterans, many of whom don’t feel the public is aware of the many challenges they struggle to overcome in attempting to re-assimilate themselves into American life.
An Effort to Build Awareness
Bush was joined by Dr. Jill Biden, wife to vice president Joe Biden, when he took the stage at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas on the campus of Southern Methodist University. He used the phrase “civilian-military divide” to describe a general apathy toward America’s men and women who have served in the armed forces overseas.
It’s hard for me to admit, as a former military wife, that I never thought about transitioning into civilian life. I spent most of my time, especially when my husband was deployed to Afghanistan, longing for a time when we were out of the military. Not that I didn’t appreciate it, I loved my military life and I was proud to live it. We made amazing friends and large sacrifices, just like everyone around us. But back-to-back deployments take a toll. I witnessed many of my friends give birth to beautiful babies while their husbands were present only in spirit or by Skype. What civilians don’t realize is that even if they don’t make the ultimate sacrifice, servicemen are still giving up moments of their lives. They give up birthdays, anniversaries, deaths, holidays, and barbecues willingly in order to do their duty. And when their call of duty is over, the real trouble begins.
A study conducted by the Bush Institute and Syracuse University indicated that about 84 percent of veterans feel as though they return to a public that is either unaware or unconcerned about the challenges faced by servicemen. Such challenges include rampant unemployment, medical problems (including post-traumatic stress disorder), and struggles with alcohol and drug addiction.
Many of our servicemen developed skills in the military that aren’t directly relatable to civilian life. Driving tanks, maintaining military equipment and the art of warfare aren’t exactly marketable skills in an office building. Many veterans are faced with having to go back to school, usually at an advanced age, or try to find a job based on the skills they do have. Unfortunately, the opportunities for our brave troops are slim.
Doing More for Those Who Gave More
It’s no accident that Bush has referred to America’s non-serving population as the “99 percent.” He’s right to point out that America has historically called upon a select few to sacrifice for the greater good, and his words in Dallas are a keen reminder of how frequently we fail to thank them for their service – not with words, but with actions.
My husband is a part of that one percent. He is facing a world that continued on without him while he was fighting for his country. His friends have graduated college and are starting their careers and he is starting over. At 26 my husband left the U.S. Navy and began school. He has three years under the G.I. bill to finish a four-year degree in criminal justice. Upon graduation he will apply to become a state trooper at 29 — the oldest age before the cutoff. Part-time job prospects for full-time students with no previous work history other than the military are few and far between. But compared to vets all over the country, my husband is one of the very lucky ones.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has proven incapable of meeting the needs of those it has pledged to support; with a backlog of almost 400,000 veterans awaiting their disability benefits, Bush has set out to remind us all that no single organization can provide the support that our servicemen and women need. We’re all part of an unspoken social contract, he suggests.
One of the most important targets for the President’s efforts has been to educate employers on the benefits of hiring veterans, too many of whom have gone too long without jobs following their tours of duty. The unemployment rate of veterans, particularly those who have served in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is unforgivably high. Among this latter group, the unemployment rate currently sits at about 10 percent, or almost a quarter of a million veterans.
In trying to account for this unacceptable trend, researchers have looked to PTSD as a likely explanation; there would seem to be an unspoken stigma associated with PTSD, resulting in fewer and fewer employers proving willing to hire veterans. As President Bush pointed out, however, employers are only too willing to hire individuals who suffer from other medical conditions, and PTSD should be no different.
What’s worse is that veterans are all too aware of the stigma associated with the stress disorder. Often when coming back from a tour of duty, servicemen often attempt to hide the evidence of the disorder, rather than receiving help. Not only do they not want to be diagnosed with PTSD, they don’t want to be seen as weak or unable to fulfill the requirements of the job. It’s a strange thing that in this country we sing the praises of our soldiers while they’re at war, but when they have completed their duty, we turn our backs to them, often in their greatest time of need.
The former President Bush’s message is a clear reminder that the cost of taking care of those who took care of us should be no object. As the 99 percent, we should educate ourselves about our veterans — many of whom aren’t as lucky as my husband. They aren’t meant to be hero-worshipped or pitied; they are simply men and women that sacrificed time with loved ones, worked hard for this country and ultimately deserve a fair shot at succeeding.
Watch the remarks by Bush and Biden below.