Chairman: Veterans Deserve Nation’s Best Now, in Future

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2010 — The nation has not begun to com­pre­hend the long-term con­se­quences of pro­tract­ed war, the military’s top offi­cer said yes­ter­day.

“The human toll – the fear, the stig­ma, and the hard work of recov­ery ahead for our troops and their fam­i­lies – these are the real costs of war,” he said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at a Busi­ness Exec­u­tives for Nation­al Secu­ri­ty din­ner in New York hon­or­ing David and Mary Boies with the organization’s Eisen­how­er Award.

He said the Boieses and oth­er BENS mem­bers’ efforts demon­strate their pas­sion to give back to the coun­try.

“Nation­al secu­ri­ty is not just the purview of the mil­i­tary or the gov­ern­ment,” Mullen said. “But … I think for many of our fel­low cit­i­zens, the mil­i­tary remains an abstrac­tion.” While it’s clear Amer­i­cans love and sup­port the nation’s troops and their fam­i­lies, he said, “My fear is that we’re los­ing touch.”

Ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies com­mon­ly have endured five year­long or up to 25 short­er deploy­ments since 2003, he said.

“From the every­day sac­ri­fices of missed birth­days, soc­cer games and spe­cial moments each fam­i­ly cher­ish­es, to the phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal reper­cus­sions attached to the post-com­bat expe­ri­ence, these are lives for­ev­er changed,” Mullen said.

“Long and fre­quent absences are test­ing their resilience,” he added. “They want to know, ‘How many deploy­ments can a mar­riage take?’ ”

Vet­er­ans strug­gle with the com­bined stress of com­bat mis­sions, fam­i­ly sep­a­ra­tions and even­tu­al rein­te­gra­tion into civil­ian life, Mullen said.

“Mil­i­tary fam­i­lies live in a war zone of their own,” he said. “The pres­sure to try to bear up with a stiff upper lip is dri­ving some to leave the ser­vice or – most trag­i­cal­ly – to leave this life.”

He said many vet­er­ans have a hard time trans­lat­ing mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence into viable jobs, par­tic­u­lar­ly in a bur­dened econ­o­my.

Tran­si­tion chal­lenges, post-trau­mat­ic stress, strain on fam­i­lies, health care demands, ris­ing home­less­ness among vet­er­ans, and the silent epi­dem­ic of sui­cide all paint a stark fore­cast, the chair­man said.

“There must be a sense of urgency here,” Mullen told the audi­ence. “The soon­er we empow­er our vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies through these tran­si­tions, the less like­ly they will spi­ral down­ward.”

Mullen praised the Boieses and oth­er BENS mem­bers for the organization’s “War­rior Gate­way” web­site, which he said helps con­nect vet­er­ans’ needs with the right com­mu­ni­ty resources and pro­grams.

“Many vet­er­ans either can’t find the ser­vices they need or are over­whelmed by the maze of options,” he said. “Reduc­ing the infor­ma­tion bar­ri­er, as War­rior Gate­way does so well … can help put our vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies on the right path.”

The web­site allows vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies to share sto­ries and rate and review the ser­vices they use. That’s an impor­tant piece, Mullen said, because it gives vet­er­ans a voice and allows them to help guide oth­ers fac­ing the same issues.

“They are not bur­dens, they are assets. They are not weak­ness­es, they are great strengths,” Mullen said. “They have giv­en us their very best. It is up to us to make sure they get noth­ing less than our best in return, now and long after these wars are over.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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