COLUMN: Caring for a New Generation of Veterans
September is a perfect month to reflect on the sacrifices of military servicemembers. Earlier this month, we remembered the tragedy that struck our nation 18 years ago when radical terrorists attacked our great nation. The loss of nearly 3,000 civilians in one day took a crushing toll on our society and forever shaped our history. As a result of that act of war, we have continuously fought this enemy for nearly two decades, presenting us with a challenge: caring for a new generation of veterans.
Eighteen is a monumental age for Americans. As an adult, an eighteen-year-old is entrusted to become an engaged citizen now having the right to vote, and the ability to serve in the military. It is hard to believe that since the 9/11 attacks, this country has an entire generation who were not yet born on that fateful day. Legislators and healthcare providers will have to change their approach to serving this new generation of veterans as their needs will be different from previous generations. However difficult this challenge may be, the country owes it to these veterans to ensure their needs are met and that they have the best care available.
Assisting veterans has been one of my top priorities as a congressman. As this September coincides with a monumental anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it is also recognized as “Suicide Prevention Month.” Suicide affects too many families. Tragically, it has predominantly become affiliated with military service as well. Nowadays, a deployment to a hostile foreign country is often the least of concerns for military servicemembers. Shockingly, over 20 veterans a day end their lives through suicide according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This trend deals a devastating blow to morale for troops, is an unfathomable loss for families, and a crisis which must come to an end.
The first step to curbing the veteran suicides is to identify the factors that may lead an individual to look to suicide in a time of crisis and address those issues. Many times, the first stop is ensuring a stable home life. Family stress is commonly affiliated with depression, which is a leading cause of suicide. Recent reports of less-than-livable conditions for military families have left lawmakers, including myself, frustrated. This week, I welcomed the Fort Carson garrison commander, Col. Brian Wortinger and Command Sgt. Major Kenyatta Mack to my DC office to discuss military-related issues in Colorado and across the country. I plan to continue discussions with military leaders on the top issues including the housing conditions at our military bases. Improving and practicing open communication between Congress and military leaders will ensure that servicemembers’ best interests are placed at the core of each conversation. Additionally, as the National Defense Authorization Act continues through the legislative process, we must ensure that adequate living quarters are provided for military families. I look forward to reviewing the final version of this year’s bill in the coming weeks to make sure it includes robust resources for our active duty troops and their families
Military life is not an easy one, and those who serve are the first to admit that. As the father-in-law to an Air Force pilot, I have seen the stress that multiple nearly year-long deployments during a short span of time can have on families. While I am fortunate to have my family together, now that my son-in-law’s active duty service has ended, many families are left wondering what to do when their loved ones leave the service, especially when it comes to employment. Thankfully, we have seen a prolonged period of economic growth that bodes well for job seekers. However, there are still an incredibly high number of unemployed and homeless veterans. According to the Department of Labor, nearly 60% of the 326,000 unemployed veterans in 2018 were between the ages of 35 and 45, which is considered mid-career age among the civilian workforce. As the economy continues to climb, I am hopeful the number of unemployed veterans will continue to decrease.
Another issue which Congress has continued to look into is that of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the impacts of other brain-related injuries on servicemembers’ well-being. Advances in medical technology and overall public awareness of PTSD have certainly improved the way we go about treating veterans. We should continue to make access to treatment for PTSD easy for veterans through telemedicine and other affordable healing methods. The military has traditionally prepared for the next war by studying the most recent war; serving veterans however, requires us to be more forward thinking. Veterans coping with PTSD are especially prone to depression or suicidal thoughts and it’s imperative that we work together to put the best treatment solutions forward for those who need it most.
As I continue to work to best serve veterans, I also invite your input and encourage any veterans to contact my offices across Colorado’s Third Congressional District should they feel they need any assistance. I am proud to announce during my tenure in Congress, my staff and I have served hundreds of veterans with VA issues and look forward to building upon that success. If you are a veteran or know of one in need of assistance, do not hesitate to call my Pueblo office at 719-542-1073 or visit my website at https://tipton.house.gov.