“Freedom isn’t free”- United States Air Force Colonel Walter Hitchcock
Today, we remember the thousands of men and women who have served our country, sometimes giving their lives to protect and defend our ideals and freedom. These courageous individuals are members of our community. They have sacrificed because they believe in the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.
Who is a veteran? A veteran may be someone seen in an army jacket, sleeping under a bridge, wondering where their next meal may come from. A veteran may be someone who has engaged in combat overseas, risking their life to defend and protect others, living in unfamiliar surroundings far from home. A veteran may be a young man or woman who has recently come home from fighting a war overseas, seeking a job to provide for their family. A veteran may be a grandparent, struggling with medical bills caused by injuries during service.
Their experiences may have been as recent as the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or as distant as the Gulf War or wars in Korea and Vietnam, or even World War I and World War II. They have been to Somalia, Bosnia and other war torn countries. They have fought a lengthy battle against drugs in Latin America. They have faced desert storms and provided medical treatment and aid to people in need. No matter where they have served, we reserve this day to remember them and to thank them for protecting this nation. These men and women deserve honor and respect.
On this day, we can reflect on the condition of veterans in our country. The burden of warfare leaves no one unscarred. Though we do our best to honor our veterans, they may endure trials in silence, not knowing where to turn to. They need our support not only through the creation of jobs but also through compassion and understanding regarding physical and mental health issues that can arise due to having served our country.
According to a report in 2012 by the Texas Workforce Investment Council, in the state of Texas in 2011 there were 1,593,072 veterans, an estimated 8.6% of our overall population. In 2011, Texas was the state with the second largest veteran population, second only to California.
This number does not reflect numerous family members, grandparents, parents, sons, daughters, neighbors and friends who may know someone who has served our nation. Counties identified with the highest veteran population in Texas included Harris, Bexar, Tarrant, Travis, Dallas, El Paso, Collin, Denton, Bell, and Williamson. The report stated that more than half of the state’s veterans reside in these counties.
At the time of the report, young veterans were struggling with employment issues, with an overwhelming 30.2 of young servicemen and women facing unemployment. Today, many companies have recognized this need and are attempting to create initiatives expanding employment opportunities for veterans. Many cities host career fairs targeting veterans and attempt to translate military experience into skills that can be used in civilian sectors.
Locally, Austin Community College and the University of Texas provide educational services for veterans. The state of Texas has a program called College Credit for Heroes enabling veterans to gain credits for service. UT has an active student veteran association.
The report also mentioned that nearly 30% of the veteran population live with disabilities. These individuals need care and resources. Here in Austin, there are organizations that donate time and resources to these brave men and women. Many clinics offer mental health services to veterans for little to no charge. TexVet, a veteran organization in central Texas has an extensive list of resources for veterans and their families.
Though advances have been made to support veterans, the population continues to need our support. According to a statistic by National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are 1.4 million veterans at risk of becoming homeless. Recently, members of Habitat for Humanity came together to honor an Austinite and our nation’s oldest World War II veteran, a 107 year old man named Richard Overton. Overton is thankful for his new home and is one of many needing our assistance. This is a beautiful example of the good our community can do for those who have dedicated their lives to the service of others.
On behalf of citizens everywhere, we thank veterans for their bravery, service and sacrifice. Today, let us take a moment to give our appreciation to the service men and women in our community.