Mullen: Communities, Veterans Can Help Each Other
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2010 The United States owes a debt to its veterans and their families that America’s communities and their leaders can help repay, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff speaks at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Oct. 1, 2010. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Speaking to hundreds of people during a town hall meeting at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said that military veterans and their families are “an extraordinary group,” and he encouraged local leaders to find ways to employ them and put their abilities to use.
“We need to lay the foundation, and take advantage as soon as possible of what they bring, and certainly know that for the long term they are going to be a great bet,” Mullen said.
The meeting was a whistle stop on the chairman’s ongoing “Conversations with the Country” tour. As he traveled this week in Texas and Arizona, Mullen’s message to educators, students, and business and community leaders has been consistent: veterans have tremendously deep potential, and they deserve an opportunity to develop it.
“A near-term investment in these tens of thousands who are coming home will pay off remarkably, far into the future,” he said.
Though military veterans are a relatively young group, averaging ages in the mid 20s, they have leadership experience, perseverance, technological strength and a determination to serve and to succeed, the chairman said.
Many of them also suffer from the wounds of war, Mullen said, and they will need help and support in order to successfully transition back to civilian life.
“They bring challenges with them,” he said. “Tens of thousands have been physically wounded, and hundreds of thousands are facing the challenges of the pressures they have been under. We see the pressures extending from those who done the fighting to those who have supported them – our families.”
A typical mid-career servicemember has deployed as many as four or five times in the last decade. If that veteran had a child was 10 when the servicemember first deployed, the child would now be old enough to go to college.
“And that father or mother, in that kind of rotation, has not been home. We have some huge challenges to address in respect to that, and those are the kind of sacrifices our servicemembers have made,” he said.
Those who have demonstrated that ‘penchant to serve,’ the chairman said, will continue to bring value to their communities long into the future, but they need support now from those communities, as well as from the departments of defense and veteran affairs.
Amputations, brain injuries and post-traumatic stress are signature injuries of the recent wars and veterans who suffered those injuries need comprehensive care, Mullen said.
Another problem is that the population of homeless vets is growing, Mullen said, noting that in Vietnam it took about 10 years before homeless vets started becoming a noticeable presence. While operations are still occurring in Afghanistan and Iraq, homeless veterans from those wars are appearing.
Mullen highlighted the problem of homeless female veterans.
“We have female homeless vet challenge that is increasing at about 10 times the rate of our male vets, for (Iraq and Afghanistan) veterans. And they have the children.”
Fortunately, communities throughout the country are reaching out to help veterans, Mullen said.
“I am incredibly impressed at the support … it has just been remarkable,” he said. “But there is an awful lot of work to do.”
The chairman said that he’s seen success with models that offer a comprehensive approach that includes mental and physical health care, training, education and employment for spouses.
One example of matching veterans with resources is a pilot online portal called warriorgateway.org, Mullen said.
“Going national with that is one of our goals,” he said.
This is all part of paying a debt to those who have served in war, made a difference, done their nation’s bidding, and performed magnificently, the chairman said.
“It takes leadership to make this happen,” he said. “It takes leaders at every level.”