Happy Veteran’s Day! Seeing the Opportunities as We Untie the Yellow Ribbon

A Tsunami of Need for Post-9/11 Military Coming Home

The Cost of Care for Post-9/11 Military

An Ocean of Potential in Our Post-9/11 Military

Rebuilding America: Opportunity on the Horizon With Our Post-9/11 Military

Gretchen spent a decade working with military in transition, earning her the affectionate name “The Veteran Lady.” This is an adaptation of one of her white papers in honor of Veterans Day 2017. To learn more, visit www.UntyingTheYellowRibbon.com.

You hear about the crises, but do you understand the causes?

Have you thought about what’s at stake for your community?

Do you see our transitioning military as a one more burden to be handled,
or a gift of opportunity to be nurtured and leveraged?

Paradigm is a choice, so let’s shift it.

We often hear the refrain that the 1% serving in the active duty military protects the 99% who do not serve.However, when you include the families who serve alongside America’spost-9/11 military, that number swells to 5% of today’s population or roughly 12 million people.Our transitioning military and their families bring a tsunami of need and an ocean of potential back to every hometown in America.

Unfortunately, our Federal systems are not adequately meeting the transition needs of America’s 3.2 million Veterans, Guard, and Reserve or their families….and they cannot adapt rapidly enough.Military transition programs have not demonstrated effectiveness, in large part because they take place before the period of decompression and do not provide ongoing support once a Service Member gets home.

Fortunately, there is a safety net to prevent losing another generation of Veterans to homelessness, suicide, and substance abuse. There is a way to safeguard their families from divorce, domestic abuse, and child maltreatment.There is a solution: It’s called COMMUNITY.
Main Street is still affected bya challenging economy, but it doesn’t mean we don’t haveoptions. What has always made America strong is our ability to overcome challenges and reinvent ourselves. That is the true POWER of community.

A Tsunami of Need for Post-9/11 Military Coming Home

Today’s communities genuinely want to help, but community leaders often don’t understand the issues facing our transitioning military and their families.And, it will fall squarely on local government and communities to meet these needs, or not.What’s at stake are the lives and well-being of two generations: today’s transitioning military and their children.

  • Vastly improved medical technology and transport systems have saved lives, but this leaves America with the burden of care for hundreds of thousands of Veterans who will require some measure of care for life.The signature wounds of America’s wars onterror have left us grappling with how to effectively support those managing Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury.Sadly, the VA has not demonstrated the ability to meet the escalating needs of today’s Veterans, so much of this care will fall to the medical systems on Main Street.
  • Unmet mental health needs directly correlate with suicide and homelessness.As we end our wars and down-size the military, the suicide epidemic will come home to Main Street.We are already seeing this in the increase in “death-by-cop” incidents.Military spouse suicide is growing at an alarming rate. Research shows that Service Members returning home to inadequate mental health care are more likely to develop serious mental health and substance abuse issues. They become homeless four to five years afterreturning home and developing mental health issues, suggesting that we may see the rate of homelessness among young Veterans increase in the coming years.
  • Longer deployments, reduced rest times, and repeat deployments are fracturingAmerica’s military families.Divorce rates among our Veteran families are estimated to be as high as 70%.Rates of domestic violence and child abuse in military families have increased 40% in the past five years.
  • America’s Promise now defines military children as “at risk/at promise” in much the same way that they do children growing up in underserved communities, immigrant children, and children with disabilities.We are seeing disturbing trends in academic achievement and high-risk behaviors among our military teens who have grown up having one or both parents at war their entire lives.
  • While many Veterans, Guard, and Reserve are eligible for GI Bill benefits, there is a dropout epidemic among student Veterans.Military are often pushed to go to college before they are ready, or when enrollment in a trade school would make more sense.
  • In spite of a proliferation of job fairs and workforce training programs, our youngmilitary struggle like everyone else to find employment in today’s economy.This is compounded by their inability to translate their military skills to civilian work environments and to replace their military compensation through low wage, low skill jobs that do not include robust benefits packages.li>

Our transitioning military will fail or thrive depending on how successfully we craft a community-based response. It is critical that we bridge these gaps in our communities.The good news is that this is how Americans have always solved our problems.It’s our history and our spirit….from the pilgrims to the pioneers, from women’s suffrage to the civil rights movement, from the minutemen to Rosie the Riveter.

The Cost of Care for Post-9/11 Military

The long-term cost of care for today’s military is estimated to exceed $1 trillion just in Federal entitlements, for a nation that just entered sequestration.This figure does not include the cost to local governments in homeless shelters, substance abuse treatment centers, domestic violence programs, increased police and justice system involvement, and children arriving at school needing extra support services.

  • Basic care for America’s military with Traumatic Brain Injury could add $1.6 billion annually to the collective budgets of local government in the coming years, using Congressional Budget Office statistics.If we fail to invest that money in prevention now, we could face more than $14 billion in costs annually in addressing long-term consequences of failure to provide care.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress could add nearly $3 billion to that line item in municipal budgets, or more than $25 billion if we don’t provide the necessary services to support our transitioning military in their healing from the invisible wounds of war and moralinjury.
  • A single homeless person may create costs of $34,000 to their local community, according to statistics.At the current rate of Veteran homelessness, that price tag could add up to roughly $3 billion annually, a number that may jump significantly iftoday’s military coming home don’t receive the mental health services they need.
  • The CDC estimates that a single suicide costs roughly $1 million in medical costs and lost productivity.With 22 military suicides every day, that’s a cost to local communities of nearly $9 billion every year.

Good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, transition takes place at home and the burden of care for this generation of Veterans will fall on the communities of Main Street, impacting our revenue bottom lines as well as exacting a serious toll on our Veteran families and our communities. If we adopt a prevention model, we may contain some of the costs to our revenue bottom line while preventing divorce, domestic violence, and child abuse. It is unlikely that local government will receive much, if any, meaningful help from our Federal systems.It’s up to us to design and implement our own solutions.Consider how we survived the Great Depression and sacrificed creature comforts during World War II.Isn’t that how America has always worked best?

An Ocean of Potential in Our Post-9/11 Military

As American citizens, we are bombarded with negative messaging about today’s transitioning military and their needs.Scandals among our top military leaders and the epidemic of military sexual assault have caused the average civilian to question our entire military system.In the process, we have lost sight of the tremendous skills and experience our transitioning military bring home.

  • Commitment to Service: Many post-9/11 military enlisted because of the terrorist attacks of September 11.They bring home the spirit of patriotism and service that made America great.Two organizations, The Mission Continues and Team Rubicon, have emerged to provide a pathway for Veterans to continue that service to America.As we face a multitude of challenges on Main Street, we desperately need this spirit of service to revitalize our communities. A 2013 Time Magazine article demonstrates how service heals.Everyone wins.
  • Leadership and Teamwork: Local governments grapple with issues of citizen engagement and thinning municipal leadership pipelines.Today’s military come home with the leadership and team building experience to move community projects to implementation.Military service easily translates into leadership in local government, whether elected, appointed, or hired.Everyone wins.
  • Work Ethic: Many employers complain about the state of today’s employees; they will often hire a candidate with the intangible skills they want and train them in the hard skills they lack.Most Veterans, Guard, and Reserve come to the workplace with a solid work ethic, a willingness to be trained, respect for the chain of command, and awillingness to take risks.They show up on time, properly dressed, and show respect to their customers, co-workers, and supervisors.Everyone wins.
  • Entrepreneurship:Veterans start more businesses than civilians, and those businesses are more likely to be successful.Roughly 70% of jobs are in small businesses and 100% of net new jobs are created by small businesses in their first five years of existence.So, if we want to reboot our economy, supporting our Veteran entrepreneurs would be a good start. And, as a Veteran business owner gets going, who do you think they hire?Remember the adage about two birds with one stone?Everyone wins.

So, if America really wants to say “Thank you for your service” in a meaningful way, we will engage in a paradigm shift where we no longer look at our military coming home as a sorry rucksack of needs but as a much-needed battalion of community leaders and volunteers who can help us rebuild America.Everyone wins!

Rebuilding America: Opportunity on the Horizon With Our Post-9/11 Military

So, we have a tsunami of needs that will cost us billions of dollars.Meanwhile, we have theopportunity to tap into an ocean of potential.And, we all still have hopes and dreams for America.But, that will require us to work together.

The bad news is that we have forgotten how to BE community.It pops up after a disaster like the 2017 hurricane trifectaor the latest mass shooting.But, we have forgotten how to roll up our sleeves, solve our own problems, and take care of our own people in a sustainable way.We have allowed ourselves to become divided as citizens over politics, taxes, immigration, religion, abortion, gay marriage, and government shutdowns.And, it paralyzes our ability to work together for the common good in our own communities, where everyone wins.

The good news is that there is one issue that everyone agrees on, perhaps the only issue:no one in America wants to lose another generation of Veterans like we did after Vietnam.Everyone agrees on this one point: old people, young people….Democrats, Republicans…rich people, poor people….immigrants….pacifists.Everyone agrees.Everyone.

So, if we can ALL agree on this one issue, can this be our rallying point?Can we support our military coming home in a way that strengthens community, generates cost savings in local government, creates economic development, and lays a foundation to rebuild an America everyone is proud of?Can we move from being red or blue….and back to being red, white, and blue?Can we come back to the best of our Selves, where we are an America that is truly one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?

We ALL have something at stake here. We may have misplaced some of the best parts of ourselves, but we have not completely lost our American values.It is not too late for us to reclaim what has always been one of America’s greatest strengths: our ability to reinvent ourselves and our commitment to take care of our own.

It’s time to shift our paradigm. It’s time to move into action.I invite you to read Untying the Yellow Ribbon: Transforming How Veterans and Communities Thrive.I hope you will join themovement.To learn more, visit www.UntyingTheYellowRibbon.com.

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