Ten years after the U.S. first invaded Iraq, returning troops are filing for disability benefits, seeking education and employment assistance and struggling with combat trauma.
And they need solutions. As VA spending is set to climb, a number of public and private entities continue to step in and help address challenges confronted by vets -- many of which are unprecedented and increasing in scale.
Amid $1.7 trillion in U.S. war spending -- a number that could rise to $6 trillion over the years -- there is no special fund to address Iraq vets' medical and disability payments. When it comes to education, veterans are facing suspended tuition assistance. And female vets seek help in dealing with homelessness, post-military sexual abuse trauma and many other unique challenges.
Read on to learn about the top problems vets face, who's helping and what you can do.
FACT: Corporations, nonprofits and government agencies have all joined efforts to help combat the veteran unemployment rate, which hit 9.4 percent last month for post-9/11 veterans, up from 7.6 in the same period a year ealier. Many organizations have called on the government to strengthen The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which provides employment assistance and protection against hiring discrimination. But in the meantime, a number of organizations are helping to fill in the gaps.
What's Being Done: Hire Heroes USA provides personalized job training through one-on-one mentoring and matches veterans up with corporate partners.
Wall Street Warfighters is a six-month in-residence course for veterans. Extensive training is provided to prepare vets for a career in the finance industry.
FACT: Thanks to improved technology, more troops are surviving severe battlefield wounds than ever before. As of 2011, just 13 percent of troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan died from the wounds they sustained, Dale Smith, a medical historian at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., told The Huffington Post. “[It’s] as a low a number as we’ve ever had,” he said.
While more veterans are returning home from battle (32, 221 came back from Iraq with combat wounds), that also means that more former servicemen and servicewomen are learning to live with catastrophic conditions, including genital wounds and amputations, that previous generations never before had to face.
What's Being Done: The Wounded Warrior Project helps veterans with both their physical and invisible wounds -- with a special emphasis on stress relief -- as they adjust to life on the home front.
Homes For Our Troops raises money and provides services to build specially adapted homes for injured heroes.
FACT: While the VA is working to improve its mental health services, suicide and PTSD rates remain alarmingly high. About 22 veterans committed suicide each day in 2010 and 228,875 troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan returned with PTSD as of 2012, a crippling condition some experts say close relatives can contract.
Still, many vets say they’re reluctant to seek help because of how it may affect their reputations.
"Soldiers are encouraged by lower-level leadership and their peers not to get help because of the stigma," Iraq War veteran Curtis Sirmans told HuffPost Live in January. "If you go to get help, you'll be chastised by your peers."
What's Being Done: The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans with members in the VA through phone, chat or text, to provide care and even life-saving rescues to vets during this critical time.
Give An Hour calls on mental health professionals to donate an hour of their time to troops and their families.
FACT: The number of homeless veterans in the U.S. dropped by about 7 percent last year, but some experts remain skeptical whether the Obama administration will be able to reach its goal eliminating the issue completely by 2015. The VA will have to accommodate more vets as the Pentagon shrinks the number of troops serving over the next several years, female vets remain the fastest growing population among the homeless and some veterans say they’re simply reluctant to deal with a bureaucratic VA.
What's Being Done: The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans -- a nonprofit network of local, state and federal agencies -- provides housing, food, health services and job training to thousands of homeless veterans every year.
Operation Dignity offers transitional housing for homeless vets throughout California. The organization also provides health care assistance, parenting classes, relapse prevention, anger management training, empowerment training and more. The site indicates that a $25 donation can provide school supplies for kids and $100 can cover job training for a homeless vet.
FACT: Amid the $85 billion in sequester cuts that went into effect at the beginning of the month, the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard and Marines have suspended their Tuition Assistance (TA) programs, which gave military members as much as $4,500 a year in financial aid. The VA is spared from the cuts. Several colleges are deferring tuition charges and nonprofits are offering ways to assist.
What's Being Done: National Military Family Association ensures that those who serve in the military -- and their family members -- gain access to the education and financial benefits that they deserve.
Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America works to improve education and employment opportunities for the veterans it serves through its programming and public policy initiatives.