In the next five-to-six years over one million servicemembers are projected to leave the military and return to their communities all across this country. While today these great Americans are 'employed' by the Department of Defense they will soon leave that structured and familiar life to become veterans (and family members) of their armed forces, which for many served as the singular source of great pride, confidence and comfort throughout a decade of prolonged and grueling combat, separation and loss.
I for one am worried, for if what we see every day in our organization continues, these men and women are in for some real challenges. In many ways, Rochester, New York is a blessed community – caring, giving, and trying to do its best - but we are just one community. Western New York is second only to Metropolitan New York City with regard to its veteran (and family member) population. Our organization – Veterans Outreach Center, Inc. – is woven into that community fabric as the nation's oldest independent and community-based non-profit serving veterans and their family members. The community tells me frequently that we're lucky in this community, because here we have an organization whose mission in life is to serve veterans and their families.
Other communities are not so lucky and geography seemingly takes on greater importance when becoming a veteran. Geography seems to matter because where you choose to live can ultimately have a direct bearing on the level of resources available to support veterans' needs. Some will be fortunate, others may not be so fortunate. The time has come to recognize that caring for veterans (and their families) is not just the Government's job; it is instead every community's business to embrace veterans for their example, their commitment to serving others, and their passion for service.
We have a plan – the President has articulated well this Administration's commitment to serving veterans and their families – whether in the form of greater and predictable funding for VA healthcare, expansion of veterans benefits (including education and job training), or the First Lady's Joining Forces Challenge for communities to become more involved in the responsibility to care for those currently serving in our armed forces or now as veterans. Just last month the President and Administration added more value to the plan by pledging to commit additional resources to specifically help all servicemembers transition from service and find meaningful employment, perhaps the biggest challenge faced by today's veterans and families.
At a time when some question where we're headed as a Nation, I know one thing: our commitment to those who serve their country is unwavering. That commitment is on plan and now it's time for progress, real progress, not by Government so much as by communities.
Now we need community progress – Every community has the opportunity to contribute, small and large. Employers can. Colleges can. Healthcare providers can. Businesses can. Our community dedicates a portion of their giving every day, whether through volunteerism or otherwise. Rochester, New York has a rallying point in its arsenal of caring – Veterans Outreach Center, Inc – and all communities could have such a unifying force if they took inventory of their strengths available through citizenship and example.
Colonel James D. McDonough, Jr., U.S. Army (Retired), is President & CEO, Veterans Outreach Center, Inc.