By Marc Burgess, Special to Military Times 12:10 p.m. EST November 25, 2015
Our recent annual observance of Veterans Day marked a genuine, heartfelt "thank you" to the men and women who have bravely served our nation. But now that the celebrations are over, it's an appropriate time to ask an important question: Are we truly supporting America's veterans?
A landmark survey conducted by my organization, Disabled American Veterans, reveals a very mixed answer.
There are 22 million veterans in this country. They are our family members, friends and neighbors; indeed, we all likely know at least one veteran. But there is much that many of us don't know or understand about their experiences, attitudes and perceptions.
That's why we conducted the DAV Veterans Pulse Survey. Nationally representative of America's veterans, it is the largest, most comprehensive assessment ever to reveal how generations of veterans from World War II through the post-9/11 era view their military experience, benefits and overall quality of life.
The survey results reveal that whether they served in Vietnam or Afghanistan, Korea or Kuwait, veterans are glad that they answered the call. Seventy-nine percent would serve again. Eighty-four percent believe their military service had an overall positive impact on their life.
This is true even though many veterans report paying a price for their military service. For example, nearly four out of 10 post-9/11 veterans say their military service had a negative effect on their physical health, and almost three out of 10 say that it had a negative impact on their mental health.
Some of the research findings are troubling — one primary conclusion is that this country is not keeping its promises to America's veterans. Large numbers of veterans don't believe that the federal government is holding up its end of the bargain. Just 48 percent of veterans say that the promises the government made to them as a veteran have been kept. Only 22 percent agree that the federal government treats veterans well. And less than half of veterans feel they have received the health, disability, financial and education benefits they were promised. Even fewer — 18 percent — believe that the men and women who bore the brunt of military service, veterans with disabling injuries, have received the benefits that they were promised.
Many veterans identified making the transition from military to civilian life as a challenging time, citing finding employment, managing finances and securing housing as the biggest hurdles they faced. And large numbers of post-9/11 veterans, in particular, report that military service created difficulties in their personal relationships.
But there is also good news in the survey results. Providing support to America's veterans appears to be directly connected to long-term success for men and women after they leave the military. Veterans who said they received the support they needed when returning to civilian life are much more likely to report that their military service had an overall positive impact on their lives.
The survey findings point to a number of steps we can take to ensure all veterans, whether they are 18 or 80, have every opportunity to achieve success.
If you are an employer, go out of your way to understand how military experience can translate to meaningful employment opportunities and hire veterans.
If you are an elected official, take action now to make sure that all veterans can access quality health care and the benefits they have earned.
And, for everyday Americans, volunteer with or support one of the many organizations (like DAV) that are working to help veterans succeed.
While the glow of Veterans Day celebrations is fading, it's not too late to say "thank you" to a veteran; the survey showed that 85 percent of veterans say they appreciate it when somebody they don't know thanks them for their service.
And every day, every one of us should make it our duty to make sure that all veterans get the support that they need and deserve.
Marc Burgess is the national adjutant and CEO of DAV, a nonprofit veterans service organization.