The Season of Service Is Not Just for Vets

For thousands of veterans across America, life during the holidays is going to be tough this year.

After fighting for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're coming home to high unemployment rates and a broken VA system. They're dealing with physical and emotional injuries unprecedented in complication -- from traumatic brain injuries to genital reconstruction. They're worried about their friends who are struggling to sleep at night and not getting the care they need fast enough. They're waiting months, sometimes years, to get the benefits they deserve.

Don't we promise to take care of vets when they promise to serve our country? Wasn't that part of the deal?

The Army released their monthly suicide numbers yesterday afternoon. As of November 31, 2012, there have been 303 potential suicides between active and reserve units -- 27 alone reported last month. In all of 2011, there were 283 potential suicides reported. You do the math. BLUF (bottom line up front): The trend line is going in the wrong direction.

And those are only the numbers we know -- we have no idea how many veterans have taken their lives because nobody tracks it. But this much is clear: we are not keeping our promise to take care of our vets, and it's becoming a national disgrace.

On the jobs front, vets are having a tough time getting work. A full 10 percent of post-9/11 vets are unemployed according to the official November report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ten percent of our American heroes are unemployed for the second month in a row -- let that sink in. While the unemployment rate for the general public appears to be slowly improving, veterans are still stuck in double digits.

These 2.5 million men and women have worked under incredibly stressful, demanding circumstances. They've taken fire and improvised shelter in the mountains of Afghanistan, and they're the ones that can't get work? Come on.

So what can we do? We can support new policy that will give vets across the country a hand up.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is fighting for those changes in Washington every day. And if Congress does the right thing in this Lame Duck session, we can make some real progress toward our policy goals around mental health, education and employment. The bills are on the table, now it's time for our leaders to show some leadership and put people before politics.

We like to call these bills the "IAVA Holiday Wish List." All we want from Congress is:

• Protection for veteran's jobs when they deploy
• Help for veterans to transition to the workforce when they come home
• Protection for veterans' education through the New GI Bill
• Better access to mental health care

The spirit of the season is service. We need the country to start fulfilling the promise to serve our vets, and it starts with each and every one of us.

Call Congress, teach your kids and forward this link to your best friend. There's no better time to join the movement.