Caring for veterans should be our priority

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There is a lot of talk out there about percentages. The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, the percentage of Americans who pay no federal income tax, the percentage of voters veering left or right on any given day.

Here’s another one. One-half of 1 percent. That’s roughly how much of the U.S. population has been active duty at any time during the past decade, many now included in the overall veteran population, about 13 percent.

They are the men and women fighting terror, leaving their families for Iraq and Afghanistan, risking their lives and limbs. They endure war. They know fear, courage and sacrifice most of us never will face, maybe never even understand.

They are owed all the rest of us can give them.

USA Cares, a Radcliff-based charity helping post 9/11 military families, recently reported the call for help from military families have jumped from 150 to 250 per week.

Mostly, those calls are for help with a mortgage or rent, food, fuel, utilities and car repairs or payments.

Those recently leaving military service face an uncertain job market and high unemployment. In some cases, there’s not enough money to see them through the transition back to civilian life.

Sometimes complicating the matter is the veteran’s health.

The Department of Veterans Affairs disability claims have increased by nearly 50 percent since 2008. While the VA announced completing a record 107,462 claims in August, there are too many reports of disabled veterans waiting years to get care.

The VA’s goal is to eliminate the backlog in 2015 and be able to process claims within 125 days. That’s a low bar, plain and simple.

Consider whether what’s in your checking account today would last 125 days. Imagine your family dealing with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for 125 days.

We can do better for those veterans, especially those injured, including the more than 15 percent of service members and veterans, according to the VA, who suffer impaired functioning because of PTSD.

A recently announced plan to put $100 million in research to improve diagnosis and treatment of mild traumatic brain injury and PTSD is a step forward. More funding for VA claims processing is a step forward.

Still, in what has been called our only “sacred obligation,” it’s a long walk ahead.

We should support programs that help them, from tax-funded services to organizations such as USA Cares.

We should not only invite them to job fairs, but promise the traumas they suffered as warriors won’t endanger their careers.

Lapel pins and window decals are a wonderful gesture of appreciation, but many servicemen and women need more.

As individuals and a community, we should care that they all have shelter, food and medical care. They’ve done far more for the majority.