Focusing on the needs of our veterans

On Thursday, November 11th, we observe Veterans Day. As a nation, we thank our veterans for their service to our country and remember the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. All veterans put their lives at risk to protect the freedom, democracy and liberty that, as Americans, we all enjoy. We should all recognize their patriotic call of service by showing them the respect and admiration they deserve.

I have had family members and close friends serve in every foreign war since World War II. I remember the pride my late grandfather had of his service for our country in World War II. I have heard so many more stories from veterans about their honor and survival at war. But sadly, I have also seen firsthand the struggle many veterans have when they return home and have to make the transition to civilian life.

Veterans account for almost 25% of the homeless population in the country and 1 in every 10 homeless veterans under the age of 45 is female. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are currently 1,750 homeless veterans in Massachusetts. In addition to homelessness, about 7% of all veterans have reported having a substance abuse problem in the last year. Research also indicates that almost 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from mental health issues or cognitive impairment. These are just a fraction of the hurdles our veterans face when they return from war.

There are laws that protect our veterans, as well as programs and services to meet their needs and facilitate their reintegration into civilian life. But I believe that our government and our society as a whole ought to make sure our veterans have full access to all available resources. We also need to make sure that our veterans are provided with a safe and healthy environment upon returning home, that we provide them with the opportunity to find a job, and that all veterans have a roof over their heads.

This belief is what prompted me, along with Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, to hold a City Council hearing on Monday, November 8, 2010, on veteran services. At this hearing, we heard from dozens of veterans groups. We learned about housing, health, counseling and career development services available to veterans and we were able to connect the veterans in the room to the services they need. As one of your At - Large City Councilors, I remain committed to working with our veterans and for our veterans.

In our country, as part of the freedoms we enjoy, we have spirited debates over whether or not we support a war. However, we should all agree that the men and women who serve our country are heroes and should be treated with the respect and dignity they have earned with their service. I, for one, will always be grateful.