From the mountains of Korea to the deserts of Iraq our military men and women have gone above and beyond to protect the values we hold so dear to us in this great nation.
California has seen more combat fatalities than any state in the nation and still our brave young men and women continue to enlist at rates higher than anywhere else.
It is important to take Memorial Day to celebrate the lives of those brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy, the jungles of Vietnam, the valleys of Afghanistan and so many other global locales our young men and women have gone and perished in defense of freedom. It is critically important. But it is equally important to celebrate those who also fought and sacrificed but were lucky enough to make it home to their families.
This year, as a part of my ongoing efforts to bring attention and recognition to the sacrifices made by all our military veterans, I want to also draw attention to the issues these brave men and woman face sometimes for decades after stepping off the battlefield.
California is currently home to over 2 million veterans. In the 21st Senate District we know the value our vets bring to the community. But what many of us don’t know is the hardships many of our friends, neighbors and relatives returned from service are facing.
Twenty four percent of veterans say finding a mortgage-paying job back home is the most challenging part of their post-military lives. This we must address. Last year I supported legislation to ease regulations and streamline the process for veterans seeking state licenses to operate businesses, making it easier for our vets to start their own businesses here in California.
But, aside from the elusiveness of employment, many of our veterans today are facing the additional barrier of mental illness, often related to their service. About 30 percent of Vietnam veterans and 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD isn’t just a mental ailment, it is a barrier. A barrier to employment, to happiness, to success and overall wellbeing. It is a barrier that sees over 1.5 million veterans nationwide living in poverty. It is a barrier that sees veterans gaining college degrees at less than half the general population. It is a barrier that sees over 60,000 veterans living on the streets. It is a barrier we must break down by encouraging and facilitating treatment for those affected.
This year I introduced legislation to build a memorial in the California State Capitol Park honoring our fallen California heroes who did not return from the battlefields of the Middle East since being deployed there after 9-11. Memorials like these serve many purposes but among the most important are that they give an official recognition of the sacrifices made and provide a rallying point for the comrades and families left behind by these fallen warriors so that they may find closure in their grief.
These small steps can have huge impacts for California’s veterans. But they aren’t nearly enough and as we honor the service of our veteran community we must honor that service in a meaningful and impactful way.
Ask a combat veteran what they were fighting for and nine times out of ten they’ll tell you they were fighting for the guys next to them. So in their resting place the best thing we can do to honor them is pick up where they left off; fighting for the guys next to them. The guys who made it home when they didn’t. We have not done that nearly enough in this country as a new generation of warfighters has come home to challenges they often can’t overcome on their own.
We must begin to start solving problems and building bridges for our veteran community. We must connect them with the services they need and earned and we must help them find mortgage-paying jobs that support them and their families now and in to the future. For those who sacrificed so much to maintain our quality of life here at home, we must now, ourselves, go above and beyond to protect and provide for theirs.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs I am blessed to have an opportunity to affect positive change in this area and I will do all I can in that role to ensure improved access to jobs, housing, healthcare, mental health treatment and all the services veterans may need as they continue to return from serving our country both within our borders and around the globe.