After WW II Johnny’s return was greeted with “Hurrah Hurrah.” After Vietnam his return was not so happy. Yesterday the last combat troops left Iraq, and gradually Johnny and Jane will return to New Jersey. They leave behind a country with significant unresolved issues and a war for which the results are yet to be determined. Of the 50,000 (plus contractors) who are staying in Iraq, many will not be immune to combat. Of those who are leaving, many will be reassigned to Afghanistan or other theaters. Other New Jerseyans will continue to be assigned there to join the “non-combatants.”
Most returning to New Jersey are excited to be reunited with loved ones and friends and feel a huge sense of relief. However, they face an unemployment rate about double our 9.7%. (Nationally for veterans the rate is 21%.) Many have physical wounds and ailments requiring treatment from our overburdened VA hospitals. Most will experience some level of post-traumatic stress disorder, in some cases severe enough to lead to suicide. Earlier this month, Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) hosted a forum for hundreds of Central New Jersey veterans addressing concerns about health care, the GI Bill, veterans employment, and other issues.
Medical needs for vets are substantial and will be long-lasting. The VA offers 5 years of free health care and a 180 day dental benefit. However for those who need in-patient care there is no VA hospital in southern NJ. Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, hopes to change that. Also there are long waits for appointments throughout the system.
A NJ Senate committee released this week a non-partisan bill that would provide an income tax credit up to $10,000 to veterans who require psychological counseling and treatment. Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) said she will also introduce a separate measure calling on Congress to pass a bill requiring that returnees receive a telephone call from properly trained personnel to determine their emotional, psychological, medical, and career needs and concerns at least once every 90 days.
“Vet-2-Vet,” a toll-free confidential help line, created five years ago by the NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and UMDNJ responds to over 3,000 calls a year, but operates on year-to-year funding. Sen. Fred Madden (D-Turnersville) introduced legislation that would require the state to permanently fund the program.
Caldwell College held a Jobs Fair last week for vets, and more such fairs are needed. The VA provides some help with its website Vet Success which connects vets and employers. The NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs provides small individual and business grants. For others who want to continue their education there is the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
What can we do? Welcome vets home with open arms. Support legislation for better medical care, counseling and job services. Encourage employers to hire vets. Urge our government to withdraw even more troops from Iraq and start the process immediately to bring an end to our fruitless war in Afghanistan.