Ask the Expert: Lawrence J. Korb on the state of America's veterans
What is the state of America's veterans?
America's veterans and the Veterans Administration face two major challenges. One, the Vietnam veterans are starting to get older and have health problems, some of which are related to age and some of which are related to the war. For example, exposure to Agent Orange has been known to cause cancer.
The other problem you have is the veterans created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Particularly the mental problems. Everyone knows about the physical problems. In the two wars we've probably had about 50,000–60,000 people wounded. But you've had at least 500,000 people who have mental problems. We call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. And when they leave the service they are pretty much on their own until they get to the Veterans Administration.
What are the major issues they're facing right now?
Today's veterans, the ones who served us so well in Iraq and Afghanistan particularly, when they leave the service, they're coming into an economy in which it's very hard to find a job. A lot of them, while they have very good training in the military, sometimes it's not quite related to the demands of the economy. Then, of course, you've got those who are physically wounded. The good news is that your chances of dying if you are wounded on the battlefield are much less than they used to be. The problem is that a lot of people who survive now have disabilities, loss of limbs for example, that they're going to have to cope with for the rest of their lives.
What can we do to help them?
I think there are a number of things that we can do. First of all, we have to enlarge the size of the Department of Veterans Affairs and hire many more doctors. I think we also need specific training programs for people who are discharged from the military to help them get the skills they need to get into the private sector. They do have a very generous GI Bill, but it's not just about going to college. We really have to help them get specific training. I think the president has a very good plan that if you hire a veteran, you get some sort of tax benefit. We really need to do that because you do not want veterans to have a gap between when they leave the service and when they get a job. You don't want to give them the feeling that the country doesn't appreciate the tremendous sacrifices that they've made.