by Donna Teresa, Staff Writer
When the United States made the decision to engage in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, one of my concerns was for the welfare of our men and women in uniform.
Would they be given the best possible care and attention? Is someone out there watching out for them to make sure that their concerns and needs are being addressed? Are their families being offered the resources they need while their loved ones are away from home for so long? What will become of our returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq when they come home?
I wondered no longer when a nonpartisan, nonprofit, organization called IAVA, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.iava.org) was founded in 2004, by current executive director and veteran, Paul Reikoff and his fellow Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Its mission: that the troops, veterans and families are cared for as they should be.
For me, this group has been a vital addition in advocacy when veterans from previous wars had no voice speaking up for them. What voice they did have? No one in Washington was willing to listen.
Veteran’s needs were ignored and not addressed as they respectfully should have been.
Well, this is 2009, and guess what? Washington is listening. Reikoff and has crew have been hitting the airwaves, newspapers, television shows and Internet spreading the word about what our veterans need to help them on the battlefield and when they return home.
Last year, IAVA issued a 2008 Congressional Report card on www.veteranreportcard.org on how representatives from across the U.S. voted on veterans issues.
Thanks to IAVA’s report card, I think Congress spent more time and effort in making sure that veteran issues got the attention they deserved. I think this report card not only helped legislation for our newest veterans, but brought attention to all our veterans.
Thanks to aggressive attention by groups, such as IAVA and other supporters, veterans finally had the GI Bill updated. The GI Bill is a crucial benefit for our veterans who want a college education but can’t afford it.
It is my hope that colleges and universities will be more welcoming and more inclusive to any veteran who desires an education at their institution. Especially, with today’s tough economic times.
For our newest veterans, coming home is not an easy transition. Each veteran’s war experience is unique. Many are already suffering the physical and mental wounds of war. Others will see changes happen as the years go on; the problems will not be instant. Let us not forget that of the over 1.7 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many have been deployed more than once, often 2 or 3 times.
There is no crystal ball that can predict the condition of these veterans over time. All I know is that our country better be prepared to handle and address their issues immediately.
In February of 2009, IAVA gathered for the fourth annual "Storm The Hill" campaign in Washington, D.C., meeting with several lawmakers to talk about veteran legislation.
I hope they continue this important event for as long as it takes for people to listen. If you are a veteran from Iraq and Afghanistan, please check out IAVA’s Web site. It is filled with many outstanding resources that will help you and your families. Paul Reikoff and staff members, please keep doing what you do. Your list is long, the road may be tough, but your voices are needed to stand up for those who cannot. Thanks for what you all do for our vets.