Last week it was reported that that the U.S. Army will reduce the size of its force by 40,000 soldiers between this year and 2018. This amounts to a cumulative cut of 120,000 soldiers, or 21 percent, since 2012.
It's easy to refer to these massive force cuts in terms of numbers, much harder when put in plain, human terms. These are forty thousand real people with real families who are being let go from their jobs.
While the Army is concerned about its soldiers, it rightfully focuses on force readiness. This leaves communities around this country with the pressing concern of working with these veterans to integrate them and their families back home.
There is a school of thought that says that veterans have been with us since the beginning of our nation's history -- that we cared for them then and we continue to care for them to this day. That may be true, but there is apprehension among organizations serving veterans, of which Easter Seals Dixon Center is one, that the clock is ticking on people's generosity.
A report from Got Your Six stated that there is a "tilt to wanting to reward veterans with charity and reprieve rather than opportunity and challenge." Less than 50 percent of the report's surveyed respondents stated that they believe the best way to help post-9/11 veterans success is to provide them with opportunities to continue to lead and contribute to their communities. The majority believed that the best path to success for these veterans was to provide services such as health care and housing.
Veterans are not victims, nor should they be perceived as being part of a mysterious underclass. It's simply that they may need to adjust to a world around them that is very different from the military community in areas ranging from language to healthcare choices to employment.
Yet according to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation 2014 study, just over half of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans felt the military was not doing enough to transition veterans back to civilian life. The minute these vets receive their walking papers, they return to the community. Whether you concur or not, it falls upon the community to offer backing and a connection.
The best way to do this is to listen to a veteran and his/her family. Be there beyond a "thank you for your service" and actively listen to their stories. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Probe a little. Introduce them to your circle.
I don't typically listen to punk rock, but I really like how Patti Smith talks about connecting with others. It seems a fitting way to close out this column: "Make your interactions with people transformational, not just transactional."