As a nation, we've seen improvement in how we help our veterans, especially recent veterans, but we still have a long way to go.
From physical and health-care issues to employment, the needs of veterans continue to rise in importance for people across the country. In Carroll County this year, our board of county commissioners agreed to help fund an expansion - from three days a week to five days a week - of a shuttle service offered through Carroll Area Transit System that gives veterans free rides to the Veterans Administration medical center in Baltimore and to Fort Detrick in Frederick. The commissioners also hired a veterans' services coordinator to help veterans through the medical claims process.
Efforts such as these help, but the federal Department of Veterans Affairs still has a major backlog of claims, and veterans still wait far too long to get the help they need and deserve. Prior to the federal government shutdown, the VA said it had 725,469 cases pending, and 58 percent of those were more than 125 days old, according to a USA Today story last month.
The shutdown hurt progress, because helplines shut down, workers who were getting overtime to help reduce the backlog were sidelined and decisions on claims and appeals were put on hold. With government operating again, Congress should act to put in place measures that would keep veteran services operating and a priority even in the event of a government shutdown.
Perhaps the worst manifestation of our compassion for veterans is reflected in the suicide rate. Last February, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report saying that 22 veterans take their own lives every day. Given that the data and numbers came from starts reported only by 21 states, it is likely that the numbers are much higher. Getting help to veterans who are having trouble readjusting to society, or coping with their experiences in war zones, needs to be a priority. These veterans can't wait months or years to get the treatment they need.
Veterans, especially recent veterans, also continue to have trouble finding jobs in our lagging economy.
While the national unemployment rate in September was 7.2 percent, the rate for post-9/11 veterans was just over 10 percent. More companies have been reaching out to veterans, and job fairs that focus on employment opportunities for veterans continue to increase.
We have made good strides in recent years in improving veteran care, but we are a long way from done. Today, as we pause to honor veterans, we should recommit to providing all the necessary resources to ensure they are getting the care they need, and deserve.