Vol. 55, No. 5

In this edition

For the third year in a row, The Ripon Forum is dedicating an entire edition to the Veterans Day holiday and those brave men and women who risked their lives in defense of America.   

VA Update: Our Work for Veterans is Never Done

Our country made a binding pact with our servicemembers. Upholding our end of the bargain is a moral obligation.

Equipping Our Veterans for the Next Season of Service

Too many of these servicemembers struggle to have their talents fully understood and utilized amidst transitioning back to civilian life.

Burn Pits Cannot be the Next Agent Orange

Otherwise-healthy veterans are suffering from uncommon cancers that may be result of exposure to open-air burn pits. The time for action is now.

“You kept us safe. You did your duty.”

Members of the United States military have done more to liberate humankind from oppression and tyranny … than any other force in human history.

“We honor veterans’ service and sacrifice for this great nation.”

There is something incredibly unique about those who sacrifice so much to serve our country – who choose to run towards conflict in the name of freedom.

“There is no greater calling than service to country”

There is no greater calling than service to one’s nation. And if there’s one thing veterans understand, it is that service never stops.

“We remember and honor the sacrifices, both large and small.”

At one point in every veteran’s life, they made the tough decision to leave behind the comforts of home to fight for a cause bigger than themselves.

More Needs to Be Done to Meet the Mental Health Challenges Facing Veterans

Transitioning from active duty brings many challenges and mental health stressors.

How Veterans View the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Like the public, they are deeply divided along party lines.

We Said We’d Never Forget: Will We?

For the first time in 20 years, we celebrate Veterans Day in relative peace.

We Said We’d Never Forget: Will We?

For the first time in 20 years, we celebrate Veterans Day in relative peace.

On November 11, 1918, Ralph Lindsey wrote from his hospital bed in France “Armistice signed at 11 o’clock. Grand celebration all over France. War is at last over and I am still alive!” Later in life if you asked him about the scars on his chest he would simply respond with a shrug and say, “I zigged when I should have zagged.” Ralph was my great grandfather, and now, nearly 103 years after he wrote those words our nation once again finds ourselves celebrating the contributions of our veterans during a period where their sacrifices may be less visible than they have during the past 20 years of war.

After returning from World War I, like many others from his unit, he found tremendous success, he took over the family business, and raised a family. His friends H.A. Durkee and Fred Mower, both former Infantrymen, started a small company based on a unique marshmallow confection. Another from his unit, Walter Brennan, is one of only three men to win three Academy Awards, his distinct voice the result of the same gas attack that wounded my great grandfather. Take a moment to look at Brennan’s accomplishments – IMDb lists nearly 250 film credits and called him, “In many ways the most successful and familiar character actor of American sound films.”

To be clear, the end of the United States’ involvement in the Afghan war doesn’t mean our Service Members are serving without risk.

To be clear, the end of the United States’ involvement in the Afghan war doesn’t mean our Service Members are serving without risk. Our military will continue to execute missions across the globe in support of our national security, some of those more sensitive missions, may never be known to us. That aside, superficially this Veterans Day will be much like years past with parades, speeches, and free meal deals in honor of the nearly 19 million Veterans living in our communities. Unfortunately, for many veterans – especially those who served in combat – may see this acknowledgement as at best, shallow and at worst, patronizing. Even before the fall of Kabul, many veterans complained that while they believed Americans were genuinely grateful for their service, few cared enough to actually learn about the sacrifices our all-volunteer military makes on their behalf. This civil-military divide is not only impacting the military’s ability to recruit new troops, but also our veterans’ ability to find meaningful post-service careers.

A few years ago, I was traveling from a conference in D.C. in uniform, I was seated next to a young man who was wearing a sweatshirt from a very prestigious college in the D.C. area. He was clearly bright, affable, and I was enjoying our pre-flight conversation when he turned to me and said, “so you’re in the military, did you not get a chance to graduate high school?” This is just one of the many, many cringeworthy stories demonstrating the real-life challenges of this civil-military divide. This divide is even more pronounced in Congress where in the 1970s, nearly 80 percent of the members of Congress had served in the U.S. military; today, less than 20 percent of the 117th Congress have ever worn a uniform. When my great grandfather, and grandfather returned from World War I and World War II, respectively, they entered a job market that was saturated with fellow Veterans, who understood them and the value they bring to our communities as did our elected representatives. A congressional study in the late 80’s looked at the return on investment on veterans programs (e.g., the GI Bill) found that for every dollar spent on veterans’ benefits, nearly $7 came back to the community through some form of economic output. Having worked with numerous Veterans’ groups since leaving active duty I can tell you, this figure is an understatement.

The truth about our Veterans since the end of the draft in the 70’s has become increasingly diverse as individuals saw (and continue to see) the military as a way to achieve economic mobility. They are smart, driven, resilient, and entrepreneurial – words that most Americans like my seat mate – don’t always associate with a veteran. After World War II, nearly 50 percent of veterans owned their own business, like my great grandfather; and most veterans outperform their non-military peers in the long run.

There is still work to do. While many veterans thrive in their post-service years, others struggle. Veterans continue to be over-represented in the homeless population, court system, substance misuse disorders, and suicide deaths. These are hard problems, but they are solvable ones. For the past 20 years, Americans have claimed we support our troops, but how we choose to treat our veterans over the next few years will be the measure of whether we meant it or not.

As a nation, we put an impossible burden on a small group of men and women who volunteered to serve – fully knowing the hazards of their chosen profession. If we are truly grateful for their service, we will invest in those individuals who have invested so much in our freedoms. Each generation of veterans have shown time and time again, that when they thrive, our communities, and our nation thrive as well.

Joseph Reagan is the Director of Military and Veterans Outreach for national nonprofit Wreaths Across America. He served eight years on active duty as an officer in the U.S. Army, including two tours to Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. He is a graduate of Norwich University, the oldest private military college in the country.