Editor’s note: Today, Veterans Day, we pay tribute to those who defend our country and give so much to preserve our way of life. It is an appropriate time to consider not only the contributions made by these courageous men and women but also the serious problems they too often face after completing their service.

The viewpoint that follows and today’s Maine Voices column deal with two such issues: disabilities incurred during military service, and veterans’ unemployment.

As we honor our veterans on this important day, we urge readers to take this opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served us so well.

 

We often hear in the news about service members who have died, but there are many, many more who live and many of those who serve in our military leave service injured or disabled. Some of these injuries can be healed quickly while others will have a lifetime effect.

The disabilities run the gamut from amputated limbs to post traumatic stress disorder. They force veterans to drastically change their lives when they return to the civilian world.

From getting used to a wheelchair to daily visits to a counselor in order to find a way to re-engage with everyday life after enduring the stress of military service, there is no doubt our disabled veterans risk more than their lives to defend our country.

They risk their livelihoods. This has never been more apparent than it is today with the vastly increased number of deployments not only for our active duty forces, but for our National Guard and reserve forces — our citizen soldiers, as they are called.

TRANSITION DIFFICULT

When returning to their civilian life, those veterans afflicted with service-related disabilities may find it difficult and sometimes impossible to continue in their civilian jobs. For that very common possibility, our government provides veterans disability benefits. This of course makes sense.

However, the process for obtaining these benefits is quite cumbersome and difficult, and that does not make sense.

The backlog in current veterans’ disability claims is now at 756,000. If a veteran applies for disability benefits for a service-related condition or injury, it takes that veteran an average of 394 days to have a disability claim processed. That’s over a year, and that only accounts for the initial processing of the claim, whereby the benefit sought may actually be denied, necessitating a lengthy appeal process.

During the year that the VA takes in processing an initial claim for benefits, those most seriously afflicted veterans who cannot work because of their disabilities, are living without income.

Imagine trying to live without your income for a year. Better yet, imagine trying live without your income for a year while also dealing with a mentally and physically painful disability. This is what up to 756,000 of our veterans may be currently dealing with.

VETERANS DESERVE MORE

In that year of waiting, with their lives on hold, depression can easily creep in. Without income, many lose their homes. Without support, some lose their families. Even worse, some veterans lose their willingness to live. A recent report revealed that a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes. Others turn to alcohol or drugs.

The wait for relief is far too long. Our veterans deserve more.

I have no doubt our government and our people want the best for our veterans. However, saying the words and putting them into action are two different things.

Clearly, more resources — and less lip service — must be devoted to processing veterans’ claims. More manpower is needed to address these claims and help our veterans receive the benefits they deserve.

The backlog and the wait time need to be reduced so our veterans are not forced to wait a minimum of a year to obtain the benefits they have earned. We need to demand those resources for our veterans.

It is important to remember that our disabled veterans became disabled because of their choice to step forward and fight for our country. They chose to sacrifice their way of life so that we could keep ours.

Today, just as they stepped forward to protect our country, it is our turn to step forward to support our veterans. These men and women deserve no less.