USA — Investing in Veterans Today Will Pay Off Tomorrow, Mullen Says

WASHINGTON — Mil­i­tary vet­er­ans need the sup­port of com­mu­ni­ty groups to pick up where the gov­ern­ment leaves off in help­ing with the chal­lenges vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies face, the military’s top offi­cer said dur­ing a recent town hall-style meet­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in Los Ange­les.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deb­o­rah Mullen, address the audi­ence dur­ing a town hall meet­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in Los Ange­les, June 11, 2010.
DoD pho­to by U.S. Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
Click to enlarge

Most of today’s 2.2 mil­lion ser­vice­mem­bers will not stay in the mil­i­tary until retire­ment, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audi­ence. Instead, they will leave the mil­i­tary, many with phys­i­cal or men­tal com­bat wounds, and needs not report­ed to the Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment.

“We have a sys­tem in our coun­try com­prised of the Defense Depart­ment, the VA and com­mu­ni­ties across coun­try, and too often those sys­tems are dis­con­nect­ed,” he said. “I take my most pre­cious asset – my peo­ple – and do every­thing I can for them when they serve, then turn them over to the VA, and many of them don’t have a clue about the VA and the ser­vices they pro­vide. Then, they return to com­mu­ni­ties through­out the coun­try.

“We sort of say, go back to your com­mu­ni­ties and have a nice life,” he con­tin­ued. “We’re too detached from those who sac­ri­fice so much.”

It was the lat­est such mes­sage from Mullen, who told the audi­ence he chose USC part­ly because Los Ange­les is his home­town, but most­ly because staff and stu­dents are well con­nect­ed to their sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ty. USC is the lat­est of sev­er­al locales he has vis­it­ed this year to raise vis­i­bil­i­ty on meet­ing vet­er­ans’ needs.

“It’s com­mu­ni­ty lead­er­ship that needs to step for­ward to meet this,” he said.

Mullen, a 1968 Naval Acad­e­my grad­u­ate, said he is work­ing to ensure the coun­try pro­vides bet­ter for its Iraq and Afghanistan war vet­er­ans than it did for those who served in Viet­nam, many of whom he not­ed still sleep on the streets at night.

Amer­i­can atti­tudes toward vet­er­ans have changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly in those four decades with most­ly uncon­di­tion­al sup­port for troops, the chair­man said. “There is a sea of good­will out there that wants to help,” he said. “I want to enable and help inform lead­ers of this need.”

Mullen described young vet­er­ans’ chal­lenges as “immense,” with more than 30,000 phys­i­cal­ly injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, hun­dreds of thou­sands believed to be liv­ing with post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der and trau­mat­ic brain injuries.

Mullen’s wife, Deb­o­rah, an advo­cate for mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, also addressed the audi­ence. She said many mil­i­tary spous­es talk of their own anx­i­ety, depres­sion, anger and sleep­less­ness.

“Peo­ple, lit­er­al­ly, are unable to get up in the morn­ing, and unable to get their chil­dren off to school,” she said.

Ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies – includ­ing their par­ents – “are an inte­gral part of one anoth­er,” Mrs. Mullen said, and resilien­cy must be built fam­i­ly­wide. Also, fam­i­lies of the fall­en con­tin­ue to strug­gle through the fed­er­al bureau­cra­cy; the long-term effects on chil­dren of hav­ing deployed par­ents still isn’t well-known; and female vet­er­ans, many with chil­dren in town, are the fastest-grow­ing group of home­less vet­er­ans, she said.

Part of the prob­lem, Mrs. Mullen said, is “a lot of us expect­ed these wars to be over soon­er than they were, and we weren’t pre­pared for so many mul­ti­ple deploy­ments. We are all try­ing to address this and a big part it is with the com­mu­ni­ties.”

The oper­a­tional tem­po of deploy­ments is expect­ed to slow with the with­draw­al from Iraq next year, the chair­man said, but the per­son­al and fam­i­ly prob­lems that result from com­bat ser­vice will con­tin­ue. The vet­er­ans will need edu­ca­tion, health care and jobs, he said, and invest­ing in them is a good invest­ment in America’s future.

“These are young peo­ple … and they have great oppor­tu­ni­ties and great poten­tial to make an impact in so many pos­i­tive ways,” Mullen said. “This is a gen­er­a­tion whose ser­vice will not just be seen here in the mil­i­tary, but I think they will serve for decades to come. They will serve their com­mu­ni­ties, they will serve the nation, and I think they will serve the world.”

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