Rev. Jesse Jackson on Veterans

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“My first memory as a child was seeing my father come home from World War II. So I grew up in the home of a veteran. Veterans have such moral authority that I often wish I had served in the military. They risk and gave all for their country and we can do no less for them. They should not have to exist unable to get care, unemployed, homeless, addicted, on Food Stamps and in debt to payday lenders. We’re a better nation than that!

“Scripture reminds us, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ And because veterans, men and women, have such moral authority we have the moral obligation to comprehensively care for and meet their needs: their need for jobs; their need for high quality health care for physical injuries, mental health care and care for various addictions; the need for affordable housing for homeless veterans; and the need to heal any sexual trauma that they may have suffered while in the military. The VA health system serves nearly 9 million veterans annually, which included 92 million outpatient and 900,000 inpatient visits in 2013.

Thankfully the reform Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act was passed in 2014 which provided $5 billion in funding to hire more health care providers, $1.3 billion to build 27 new medical facilities, $10 billion to allow veterans to seek outside care if they can’t get a VA appointment quickly enough, supports veterans and their families with more educational and psychological benefits, and gives the new Secretary of the VA, Bob McDonald, the authority he needed to fire senior executives at the agency as the Secretary sees fit. While the many problems cited below are troubling, it appears that progress in providing our veterans with the high quality care they deserve is on the way.

“There are approximately 22 million living U.S. veterans – about 2.6 since 9/11.

They need jobs: 4.5% are unemployed; 7.2% or 188,000 of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan; but especially women who were 11.2% unemployed and young veterans (18-24) who were 24.3% unemployed in 2013.

They need help because of traumatic brain injury, a high suicide rate and mental health problems: only half of the 14% that reported PTSD symptoms, especially those who served longer deployments, sought treatment; an estimated 22 veterans committed suicide each day in 2010, almost 70% by veterans older than 50; an increase in suicide of veterans younger than 30 increased by 44% between 2009-2011 and increased by 60% among those not using the VA’s health system; but there has been a decline among those who do use the VA’s suicide outreach program and improved mental health treatment.

In January 2014, 49,933 veterans were homeless – 12% of all homeless adults. Minorities and those in the lowest military pay grades are much more likely to be homeless than white veterans. The goal of the Obama Administration is to end veteran homelessness by 2015.

Addictions connected to PTSD such as alcohol abuse, binge drinking, prescription drug abuse and substance abuse disorder has affected 788,000 veterans.

Both male and female veterans have experienced military sexual trauma, which is extremely under-reported in the military, but estimated to be 26,00 in 2012 – 6.2% (12,100 or 1-in-5) women and 1.2% (13,900 or 1-in-100) men who make up the majority of victims. In 2013, the VA’s health system had 1,027,810 military sexual trauma-related visits, 15% higher than 2012.

“We must be a nation that cares about our veterans. They have given their all and we must be willing to give them our all.”

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