Mullen Asks Communities to Assist Veterans
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
MORGANTOWN, W.Va., April 20, 2010 Integrating veterans into society is a challenge not only for the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, but for the communities they’re transitioning into, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses audience members at the West Virginia University Veterans Education Forum in Morgantown, W.Va., April 20, 2010. Mullen and his wife Deborah stopped in Morgantown on a on a "Conversation with the Country" tour, the first leg in a year-long series of stops at America's universities discussing issues that are important to the military and how educational institutions can participate in helping veterans and their families. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke to hundreds of students, veterans and community leaders at West Virginia University and asked for a continued reaching out to military veterans to ensure their needs are met. Mullen also spoke to local residents at a town hall event at a nearby hotel.
The talks were part of Mullen’s “Conversations with the Country,” an initiative he is undertaking to raise awareness in American communities about the value of veterans.
Mullen was in New York at Columbia University April 18, and in Pittsburgh yesterday to meet with academics, community leaders and veterans.
Education and employment opportunities for veterans were among the topics discussed here. Several veteran-friendly business executives and university officials talked about ways they’re reaching out to veterans, to create those opportunities.
The university is well known for being a veteran-friendly community. And its many veteran programs have helped greatly, Mullen said. Faculty members noted the institution’s use of the Yellow Ribbon program, which provides information and services to veterans about their benefits.
A panel of business executives attested that it makes sense for them to employ well-trained military veterans. Numerous businesses here actively recruit veterans for their workforce, they said.
When employers employ veterans they’re getting mature, team-centric and trainable employees with great leadership potential, Mullen said.
“This group of young people will enrich [society] for decades to come,” he said. “And we have to look for ways to invest in them.”
However, Mullen remains concerned that available programs and initiatives affect too few veterans.
The admiral said he also is concerned that other communities throughout the nation aren’t reaching out to veterans because they simply don’t know how.
“I’ve seen [the military] transition our people from active duty to VA [and] back to the communities,” Mullen said. “At a time when so many have given so much -- those tens of hundreds of thousands who’ve been wounded and those who’ve made such a difference and gone off and done what their country has asked -- having three different systems just isn’t adequate anymore.”
The Pentagon, VA and local communities can’t solve the issue alone, the chairman said. He called for a need to streamline efforts between the two departments and communities. Through teamwork and networking, he said, communities can better meet the needs of veterans.
“[Needs] can’t be met by the Pentagon, [and] it can’t be met by the VA,” Mullen said. “It can only be met, I believe, by communities throughout the country joined together with the Pentagon and VA to get it right for those who’ve sacrificed so much.”
Mullen said he’ll outline the best practices that assist veterans during his travels to local communities. Whether they’ve served in combat or not or in the reserve component or active duty, veterans deserve a chance at a happy life, he said.
Although veterans have the potential to greatly “enrich” their communities, hiring them and meeting their needs will present challenges, Mullen said, noting the psychological effects that war can have on veterans.
Mullen pointed out that “there’s not a troop who’s seen combat who doesn’t have post-traumatic stress.”
And, even if veterans return home without physical or mental injuries, Mullen said, they’ve still made sacrifices for the nation, such as experiencing time away from their homes and families. Also, he added, in the case of citizen-servicemembers in the National Guard and reserve, deployment time affects their civilian careers.
Veterans’ experiences in the military and at war may have changed their lives, but “their dreams center around education, raising their kids, getting their kids to school, having jobs and owning [homes],” Mullen said. “Without employment and education there isn’t much of a future.”
Mullen reflected on the early years of his military service at the height of the Vietnam War. As in the past, people today join the military “to improve their lives,” he said.
“We must give them that opportunity,” the admiral said.
Mullen praised today’s generation of servicemembers and veterans, calling them the finest military the world has ever seen. It’s America’s responsibility, he said, to ensure that its veterans get the opportunities they deserve.