Mullen Speaks to World Congress on Disabilities
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
DALLAS, Nov. 19, 2010 The nation’s wounded warriors and veterans face extraordinary challenges in the years ahead, the military’s top officer told members of the World Congress on Disabilities gathered at the Dallas Convention Center here today.
With 40,000 servicemembers and veterans having suffered physical wounds during service in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, and “hundreds of thousands” suffering from post-traumatic stress, a national effort is required to repay their service, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.
“The signature wounds of these wars are different than any wounds we’ve ever had,” Mullen said, noting that medical advances and vastly improved battlefield treatment has given the combat wounded a 95 percent chance of survival.
The congress, established in 1999, brings together medical practitioners, educators, people with disabilities and caregivers to share knowledge and experiences to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
“What I see here is an opportunity for collaboration and transparency and sharing of great ideas … you’ve absolutely got it right,” the chairman said.
Mullen said he is aware of the challenges involved with conditions from autism to brain injuries to post-traumatic stress, all of which the congress seeks to address.
“I’ve heard the term ‘disability’ as I’ve walked through here,” the chairman said. “But my focus … is on ability, not disability. My focus is on potential. My focus is on strengths, not weaknesses. And how do we make that connection? How do we lead our way to the future?”
Mullen told the audience that during his ongoing “conversation with the country” he has visited about 10 cities, talking with community leaders about the young veterans returning home to towns and cities across the nation.
In the places he’s visited, Mullen said, he has found a “sea of goodwill.” Local governments, schools, businesses and individuals are eager to help returning veterans, and he is trying to help establish communication between those organizations and the servicemembers and families they seek to reach.
“Essentially, what I’m trying to do is connect what I call my yellow pages, and it’s a pretty thick book, and it’s pretty difficult to decipher, and nobody knows who to call,” the chairman said.
Linking veterans and their families with the resources available to them, and helping them make the most of those resources, is a challenge the country must meet now, Mullen said, both for veterans and for the families of those who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’ve lost over 5,500 men and women,” he said. The families of the fallen -– spouses of servicemembers killed in combat, many with young children -- are also returning to American communities, he said.
The congress has that experience and has forged those connections with the veteran community, the chairman said, and can help extend those ties further.
Wounded veterans, Mullen said, “are determined, and they are going to contribute. It is their resolution, it is their determination, it is their inspiration that offers so much potential down the road.”
The chairman said there are three areas he sees as critical for returning veterans and families: health, education and employment.
“They are going to want and need jobs,” he said. “We have a very robust GI Bill … so tens of thousands of them are returning to community colleges, colleges and universities.”
Mullen said there is “a tremendous opportunity” for veterans, and for the nation, if the skills, leadership qualities, service ethic and potential servicemembers embody can be harnessed for the nation.
Communities can help by reaching out to veterans and their families across the full spectrum of support, he said.
“Whether it’s training or education or [health care] or employment, whatever the case might be,” he said. “And they will give back to this country for decades.”
“There is a tremendous confluence of [resources] out there for them right now,” he said. “What they need is a little help getting across that bridge as they transition back to their communities.”
The congress has provided and will continue to provide such help, he said, adding, “Thank you for all you do for the military. Thank you for your life’s work.”