On the day we honor those who have served in the military, let us reflect on the nearly 2,300 men and women who didn’t have to die last year.
These veteran deaths are not attributed to service in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan. According to a study released by the Harvard Medical School, these 2,266 represent veterans under the age of 65 who died last year as a result of not having health insurance.
The Huffington Post reports that these findings prove that uninsured veterans represent a figure this is “more than 14 times the number of deaths (155) suffered by U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2008, and more than twice as many as have died (911 as of Oct. 31) since the war began in 2001."
Now is not the time for a veteran to go without proper health insurance, particularly those suffering with declining mental health. The Los Angeles Times highlighted a recent survey from Rand Corp. that finds nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reporting PTSD or depression.
What’s causing their strife? Outside of the obvious, you can add economic woes to the list of problems – including homelessness, which is on the rise among our veterans. The New York Times reports that almost one-third of adult homeless men are veterans. About 3 in 100 served in Iraq and Afghanistan – and it’s only taken them 18 months to land on the street.
As a result, politicians like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are pitching to New York businesses to hire veterans for a tax break from the federal government in return. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which was expanded earlier this as part of the Economy Recovery Plan, seeks to help thousands of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan find steady employment despite scarce jobs being available.
In Los Angeles, General Shinseki helped broker a deal between two nonprofit groups to convert two buildings into a housing and treatment facility for veterans. And President Obama has issued an executive order intended to aid veterans find work within the federal government.
These are all essential steps, but more attention still needs to be brought to the plight of the ex-soldier.
It’s easy to look back on this day as nothing more than another day off. But as someone who has witnessed people enter the military with great promise only to see them return and become a shell of their former selves I realize just how important it is that we ensure our veterans get the care that they need following their service to the country.
As cliché-ridden as that sounds, it still sounds a lot better than spotting an ex-soldier living under a freeway or dying too soon over lack of health care or the will to live.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.