The word veteran often conjures images of grizzled men in faded uniforms. Men—always men—of the Greatest Generation come to mind, not a 20-year-old fresh off two tours of duty in Iraq. But for the 2.2 million Americans who have—and continue—to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, this Veterans Day—the first since we began the withdrawal—holds special significance. We asked Todd Bowers, Deputy Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, for his thoughts on the meaning of Veterans Day for those involved in modern conflict, and to find out how we can show the troops we've got their back.
GOOD: How is Veterans Day different for a veteran of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan versus veterans from past U.S.-involved conflicts?
TODD BOWERS: The most important difference is the fact that a lot of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are deployed in war zones right now. These wars are still going on. On Veterans Day last year, I was serving in Afghanistan and our base took enemy fire on 11/11. There were definitely no parades, no recognition. The idea of Veterans Day was a million miles away for us.
A lot of new veterans who have served have never marched in a Veterans Day parade before or even identified themselves as a vet. They think of veterans like they think of their grandfathers. It doesn't help that the word veteran comes from the Latin word veteranus meaning old. We're here to show them they've got a community that knows exactly what they've been through.
G: What actions do you strive to inspire in civilians by raising awareness around Veteran's Day?
TB: 11/11 is an important day for vets and civilians alike to honor those who have served and sacrificed. No matter what your position is on the wars or where you fall on the political spectrum, everyone can play a role in the veterans' movement. We all have a moral obligation to unite in support of our nation's troops and veterans.
G: What can civilians do on Veterans Day—and beyond—to truly honor vets?
TB: Everyone can show our troops and veterans we've got their back this Veteran's Day- and you can do it in one click. This year we've developed a groundbreaking new Facebook application that allows Americans across the country to march with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America online simply by posting to their Facebook page on Veterans Day. Click here to join the march and help raise awareness around veterans issues so all 2.2 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan know we've got their backs.
G: What are some of the biggest challenges facing veterans today?
TB: On the home front, new veterans and their families are facing an overwhelming number of challenges. One of the biggest struggles for thousands of veterans today is just finding a job and making that transition back into the civilian workforce.
Last week, veteran unemployment hit 10.6 percent, up from just 6.1 percent in 2007. If finding a job in this recession isn't challenging enough, 20 percent of new veterans today are also screening positive for invisible wounds like PTSD or depression.
At IAVA, we're fighting hard to ensure these veterans have all the tools they need for the transition home, from getting access to veterans health care in their area, to receiving their GI Bill tuition on time.
Unfortunately, this past year, Congress failed to make veterans' issues a top priority. Our elected officials were more focused on reelection and partisan bickering. Americans can do their part by calling their Senators and Representatives to push for employment legislation, cutting the claims backlog at the VA, and upgrading the new GI Bill so all veterans can take advantage of a college education and find employment.
G: What kinds of Veterans Day events is IAVA involved with this year?
TB: Hundreds of IAVA Member Veterans and supporters will be marching in the New York City Veterans Day Parade. We're also taking part in parades and runs across the country in Arizona, Texas, Washington State, Washington, D.C., and two in California.
Several IAVA Member Veterans will also be part of the pre-game flag ceremony at the Baltimore Ravens versus Atlanta Falcons game on Veterans Day. Across the country, Americans can come out to support them along the parade routes or by signing up to march with IAVA online.