CHICAGO — Military veterans bring a wealth of skills and life experience to their communities, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday, underscoring his desire to ensure a better future for veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met with local business executives, veterans who own small businesses and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, advocating the “enormous” potential of veterans.
Today’s veterans are of a “generation who is flat-out wired to contribute, flat-out wired to serve,” he told the Executives’ Club of Chicago. “They are the foundation of our country. They represent the best of the best.”
Chicago was the first stop for the chairman on a three-day “Conversation with the Country” tour across the Midwest. The trip is geared toward helping community leaders, business leaders and academics realize the talents today’s veterans have to offer as they integrate into the nation’s work force and education systems.
“[Veterans] have an enormous amount of potential and an enormous amount to offer,” the admiral said. “What I hope to do is inspire local leadership to put together a model to meet the needs of those [veterans] who are coming back.”
The same outreach plan probably won’t work in every community, he added, but each plan should be centered on education, employment and health needs.
Communities across the nation want to reach out to the veteran community, Mullen said, and veterans want the opportunity for education and employment to take care of their families.
Officials of the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are actively seeking new initiatives to help this cause, Mullen said, but that’s not enough.
“We transition veterans to VA for benefits, then to their communities,” he explained. “Too often, we do that and say, ‘Have a nice life.’ ”
Getting America’s communities involved is the only way to reach out effectively to veterans and their families, he said. The Defense Department, VA and local communities need to be better linked for the sake of the veterans, he added.
“Veterans are returning from these wars, and their dreams haven’t changed a bit,” he said. “They’d like to get an education. They’d like to raise a family. They’d like to own a home, and certainly they’d like to be contributing members of society.”
Most of these veterans are in their 20s with highly valued experience and discipline, Mullen said, and can have a positive effect in their work settings and their communities for many years to come.
“These are individuals with matchless life experience,” Mullen said. “I need local leadership to not let them fall through the cracks.” Mullen said his goal is to inspire community leaders to connect with the Defense Department and VA and to streamline their efforts to facilitate the transition for servicemembers returning to civilian life.
Americans support their servicemembers even though they may not support the wars they fight in, the chairman noted, and the sacrifices servicemembers make inspire him to work hard to reach out to their communities.
“There’s more than 1 million who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and thousands and thousands come back to communities and can contribute so much,” he said. “Those who serve are extraordinary people. Those that don’t know us, take a chance. It’s worth the risk.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)