Carter Pledges Support to Nation’s Service Members, Families
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2012 Pentagon leaders are committed to caring for service members and their families, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told an Army audience today during remarks at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention here.
In Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world, Carter said, Army men and women “have displayed extraordinary courage, mental and physical toughness, and adaptability in demanding environments.”
Those qualities have garnered the Army over 15,800 awards for valor since 2001, he noted, including six Medal of Honor awards, 25 Distinguished Service Crosses and 660 Silver Stars. The price for the Army’s achievements has been high, the deputy secretary said.
“Over 4,700 Army men and women gave up their lives during this decade, in service to us,” he said. “Over 34,000 were wounded in action. This must not be forgotten.”
The families of the fallen, wounded warriors, serving troops and transitioning veterans all have a claim on the department, their communities and the nation, Carter said.
“As we look to the future, we need to ensure the health of our all-volunteer force,” he said. A decade of conflict, he added, “takes its toll. “
“We have a sacred obligation to take care of those who have served us in those conflicts,” Carter said.
Soldiers, communities and families across America grapple with the visible and invisible wounds of battle, he said. “We continue to do all we can to provide the best possible care to our wounded warriors, and to better understand and treat some of the signature wounds of the past 10 years of conflict,” he added.
The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Carter noted, recently announced they are investing more than $100 million in research to improve the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
Service and DOD leaders are also taking steps to strengthen mental health services, the deputy secretary said.
“We’re elevating the issue of mental health to the same level as physical health,” he said. “And we want all [service members] to know that seeking help when they’re in need of it is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.”
Another issue that troubles many and that he and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta take very seriously, he said, is suicide.
“Suicide has increased nationally, in every demographic, over the last decade -- not just in the military,” Carter pointed out. “But every suicide in our military family is one too many. “
DOD leaders and health providers are working to build resilience in the force and among veterans, and to help those in danger, he said.
Service members who choose to leave the military also deserve the department’s help, the deputy secretary said.
“We commit to providing those who transition out of the military service with the training and support they need to find a job, pursue higher education or start a business,” he said.
DOD and VA have fundamentally redesigned the Transition Assistance Program, Carter said. He said some key features of the revamped program are stronger career readiness standards and an enhanced curriculum, which “aims to … help service members meet their personal goals for their post-military careers.”
The two departments aren’t alone in their efforts, he noted.
“People and organizations across the country … have made a national commitment to help our service members learn new skills and find work,” Carter said.
As military members transition back to civilian life, the deputy secretary said, “the support of community and private organizations will be absolutely essential.”