DALLAS, December 20, 2011–As this decade of a two-front war gradually comes to a close, a sadly familiar cultural rift has been resurrected in America: the communication crisis between the civilian and the soldier/veteran.
A groundbreaking Pew Research study attempted to assess the gravity of this miscommunication, achieving startling results. According to their research, 96% of the post-9/11 veterans and 91% of the public, regardless of the attitudes on either the Iraq or Afghanistan war, feel proud of those who served. Yet despite this pride and appreciation, 77% of these modern-era veterans say the American public has little or no understanding of the problems that those in the military face. Disappointingly, 71% of the public agrees.
This may be why 44% of Post-911 veterans reported trouble adjusting to civilian life, meanwhile an estimated 25% experienced difficulty in past generations (we can deduce that these percentages are larger, as often veterans do not answer honestly). From these numbers, it is natural to conclude that most veterans feel detached from civilians, and civilians, despite their love affair with patriotism, do not feel connected to veteran’s issues.
This is unsurprising. This longest sustained period of warfare has been fought by an all-volunteer, draftless military comprised of less than one-half of a percent of the 310 million person population in this country; a startling contrast to the 9% fighting at the height of World War II. Furthermore, passionate politics, cultural differences and life experiences drive a wedge between those that have and have not experienced war. Combat changes people and the American civilian is not fully engaged in these wars; these are inescapable truths.
However, it is also true that many of the same social ills plaguing civilians affect the military community and veterans on an equal or more devastating level. Veterans and non-veterans have more in common than most realize.
The United States of America is experiencing an economic crisis that is changing lives, both civilian and veteran. The national unemployment rate is higher than it was in the Great Depression. 14 million Americans are looking for work, 6.2 million of whom have been unemployed six months or longer. For veterans, unemployment is nearly twice the national average. According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the unemployment rate for post 9/11 veterans was 11.5 percent in 2010, compared to 8.7 percent for veterans of all eras combined and 9.4 percent for non-veterans.
Consider the American healthcare crisis. Due to the lack of competition in healthcare markets and excessive malpractice lawsuits, most American citizens are either uninsured at 50%, or pay exorbitant fees for healthcare. Health insurance costs increased 30% between 2001 and 2005 while income for the same period only increased 3%. 45% of insured civilian adults struggle to pay medical bills and 50% of personal bankruptcies are due to medical expenses. The only solution in sight is the much debated healthcare reform, which rewards providers for their billions in political investments by strengthening their hold on healthcare through government regulations, mandates, penalties, standards and subsidies that work in their favor. This will only drive costs higher, though “everyone” will have insurance.
For veterans, the crisis of civilian healthcare is unimpressive. They’ve already experienced healthcare in the arms of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the incompetence is staggering. In 2006, the VA lost records containing the personal information of 26.5 million veterans. In 2008, workers in 41 of 57 VA regional benefits offices improperly set aside hundreds of claims records for shredding, more than likely to relieve their own workload. In a recent audit, out of only 45,000 cases reviewed 23% of claims were processed incorrectly. The audit also showed that 83% of the regional offices failed to follow their own policies. Lost paperwork leads to delayed, denied or abandoned claims for medical or financial assistance that are urgently needed, sometimes for 2-14 months.
Though one out of every three Afghanistan or Iraq veteran suffers from Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury or wounds from combat trauma, the VA takes six months on average to process each compensation request for illnesses or injuries. Currently, there is a back-log of 1 million cases. Just like civilians trapped in the flawed “private” insurance system, veterans and their families do not get the care they were promised or desperately need.
Sadly, homelessness is an American problem. Due to the current economic downturn and subprime mortgage schemes of 2001-2008, the housing bubble burst and 20% of sub-prime mortgages went into default, displacing millions of families. This situation, combined with high unemployment and a stagnant economy, contributed to a sharp increase in homelessness. As it stands now, an estimated 2.3 and 3.5 million Americans will experience homelessness this year, 1.8 million of which are American children directly impacted by the ongoing foreclosure crisis.
About one-third of the adult homeless population are veterans. 107,000 veterans, nearly half of whom served during the Vietnam era, are homeless on any given night. Two-thirds served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone. With no recovery in sight for the American economy and with veteran financial assistance in the hands of the incompetent VA, our current soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan threaten to swell these numbers further. It is estimated that 260,000 veterans will be homeless this year.
Americans may remain divided on the necessities of both wars and politics and differences in experience may play a major role in the lack of dialogue between both communities, but we have much to discuss. The common social ills deem these roadblocks largely irrelevant in the grander picture. For we, the American people, whether civilian or warrior, are both citizens. We are the only individuals that can effect change in the civilian world, and most effectively by working together. As our longest perpetual state of war ends, we will choose to understand each other, learn to communicate with civility, situational awareness, common sense, and compassion, or continue to allow the gap between our communities to widen.
In the coming months, this column will aim to foster fruitful communication, address the political and cultural issues facing American citizens on both sides of this spectrum, relay notable stories of warriors both past and present, as well as evaluate ways we can build a better nation for our citizens of tomorrow.
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