Raymond Kelley on the most pressing issues veterans face today
As America takes a moment to recognize the sacrifices of veterans, AOL.com is diving deeper into the issues veterans face after deployment. Raymond Kelley, Director of VFW's National Legislative Service, is sharing his expert opinion on the most pressing problems America's veterans face today.
Kelley is also a strong supporter of #DayForTheBrave. #DayForTheBrave is the first national veteran-focused day of giving, a day to show U.S. troops and veterans appreciation and respect. Around 200 veterans organizations -- including the Wounded Warrior Project, the USO and the Fisher House -- will be working together to raise more than $1 million in just 24 hours for troops. You too can get involved here.
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AOL.com: What is the most pressing issue facing our youngest generation of veterans that's different from what earlier generations of veterans faced?
Kelley: The most pressing issue for latest generation of veterans is the same as it has been for every generation –- transition. However, the factors that make transition difficult have shifted. The civilian workforce has changed dramatically since the last sustained war. The United States in no longer a manufacturing giant, instead we have become a tech and service provider. Because the job market has changed, the level and specificity of training has increased. This means veterans will need to spend more time in post-military training before starting their civilian careers.
AOL.com: How have the rise of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries impacted veterans, and what can and should be done to improve treatment?
Kelley: PTSD and traumatic brain injuries are commonly called the signature wounds of the post-9/11 era. Although service members from every war were exposed to these injuries, it is only recently that we have begun to recognize how serious and devastating they can be. Mental wounds are often a main contributing factor to the reintegration problems many returning veterans face, including isolation from friends and family, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness and suicide.
To address these problems, we must continue to eliminate any remaining negative stigma associated with seeking help. This includes both in the veterans community, and in the military community where many still believe that a mental health injury could threaten their careers. When service members and veterans do seek help, it must be there for them. This means that they must be provided with timely access to effective treatments that focus on recovery and reintegration. To do this, we must continue to invest in training and hiring enough mental health providers to meet the demand for care, as well as research to identify and improve available therapies.
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AOL.com: How serious are the issues with the VA hospital backlogs and health care for vets? Has the situation improved at all since the problem was first reported on?
Kelley: The VA health care access crisis is very serious. Years of underfunding and mismanagement has rendered the VA health care system unable to meet its obligation to the brave men and women who have worn our nation's uniform. While transformative efforts currently underway at the VA and recent congressional action has helped to alleviate access issues that plague the VA health care system, we still have a lot of work to do. To ensure we provide veterans high-quality and accessible health care we must seamlessly combine the capabilities of the VA health care system with public and private health care providers in each community. Other needed reforms include redesigning the systems and procedures by which veterans access their health care, realigning VA's resources to match its mission and ensuring VA's culture is accountable to veterans.
AOL.com: What are the biggest hurdles veterans, especially younger ones, are facing in the job market today?
Kelley: While skills mismatch is always a major hurdle, veterans have a critical tool to overcome it through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Unfortunately, in speaking with veterans, finding credible resources in the community is a much more daunting task. Every week it seems that someone is developing a new jobs portal that promises to be the newest cutting-edge fix-all for veteran unemployment. But surprise, this is never the case.
If you're serious about finding a job in your community, there is already a nationwide network of in-person advocates in your community that you can find though the Department of Labor. These advocates offer free face-to-face support at American Jobs Centers to help you not only identify jobs that will work for you, but also find training programs to close skills gaps for the career you really want. I know this network works, since I just hired yet another veteran to join the VFW team through my local American Jobs Center.
AOL.com: What should our elected officials and lawmakers be doing to solve all of these problems?
Kelley: Veterans issues are not partisan, so first and foremost, Congress needs to work together to solve problems that are specific to veterans. Caring for veterans is a cost of war and Congress must realize that funding for veterans cannot end when the wars are over. So, first, adequate funding to support all the health care and transition support that veterans need to reintegrate back into civilian life is critical. Specifically, Congress must increase funding for direct health care. When veterans can receive timely and quality health care –- including mental health care –- their transition becomes more seamless.
VA hospitals are on average more than 60 years old. Congress must dedicate funding to improve VA's infrastructure. Congress must protect and maintain the Post-9/11 GI Bill and continue to work with states to improve transferability of military skills.
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