With the recent passing of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it's important to reflect on the service and sacrifice that our military service members and veterans have made to keep this nation safe. While support ebbs and flows for America's operations abroad, it must remain constant for the select few who chose to pursue a life of service, sacrificing family life, frequently their health, and sometimes even their lives to protect the United Sates. Washington, D.C. is home to 40,000 veterans -- more per capita than any other city in the United States. I am one of those local veterans, returning from Afghanistan in 2010 after a one-year tour of duty as a recalled Reservist in the United States Navy.
Veterans are facing a myriad of problems these days. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who served after September 11th, 2001 was 11.5 percent in 2010, with an unemployment rate of 21.9 percent among 18-24 year olds. On top of that, there are estimates that up to a quarter of all homeless in this nation are veterans, and the statistic is likely similar in the District.
The Council of the District of Columbia is considering measures to help veterans build better lives for themselves and their families. Councilmember Michael Brown recently introduced the "Support for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Act of 2011," that would allow veterans with service-connected disabilities to receive preference points and bid discounts when competing for contracts with the District government.
At a time when large corporations have scaled back hiring, and layoffs are increasing, entrepreneurial and small-business ventures are often the only way to create jobs. Offering veterans incentives to start their own businesses provides an option beyond looking at job postings. As business owners, veterans are likely to hire other veterans to work for them, providing further benefits to a population suffering from high unemployment and poverty. As a veteran business owner myself, I hope to expand through programs like this to provide jobs to other veterans.
Another bill recently introduced by Councilmember Brown is the "Military Parents' Child Custody and Visitation Rights Act of 2011." This bill recognizes the family strains that veterans and service members have faced through multiple deployments and recognizes the negative impact that these circumstances can have on keeping families together and on child custody. Specifically, the bill states, "No permanent orders altering existing custody arrangements shall be entered while the parent is unavailable due to military service." It goes on to also require that "past absences, or the possibility of future absences resulting from military deployment, shall not serve as the sole basis for altering a permanent custody order in place prior to the absence."
During a time of increasing rates of divorce and child poverty, it's important that military and veteran parents, who are historically very responsible, are not held hostage by former spouses simply because of their service to this country. By protecting the rights of single veteran parents, we are preserving their ability to hand down their passion for service to their children. This is something we can all benefit from as a society.
While our wars may seem distant, and many District residents are focusing on living day-to-day, the veterans and service members who are currently in harm's way, or who are back home, face mental and physical wounds that will last a lifetime.
This is my inaugural blog for the Huffington Post, and I hope to focus on local veteran and military issues among other news of interest in the nation's capitol. While there is a tendency for the local media to focus on a single issue each day, I hope to provide insight into other areas that may not receive as much attention, but in many cases could have a large impact on the lives of District residents. I welcome feedback and blog ideas as well, so please do not hesitate to contact me.