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July 15, 2011

 I recently attended a great program for CEOs of veteran-owned companies called the Veterans Institute for Procurement, funded by the Montgomery County (MD) Chamber of Commerce Foundation.  It was an intense three-day class and before getting started, each of the 30 or so students was asked to tell the rest of the class some brief personal information. After introducing myself, I said a few words about a subject that every American should care about. Each day in our country an average 18 veterans take their own lives. After I told this to my fellow students, you could see that this fact hit these people particularly hard, because we all had served our country. Many of the people in the classroom knew the feeling of bullets whizzing by their heads, perhaps had parachuted into enemy territory, or had suffered combat wounds.

My company recently worked with the VA in distributing a public service announcement to promote a suicide prevention hotline to address the problem.  However, everone knows the problem is surely not going to be solved by public education alone.  (Click on the above link to see the video and news release).

Here is another interesting statistic that will alarm a lot of people. According to Volunteers of America, which helps homeless people, on any given night 75,609 veterans are homeless, and twice as many experience homelessness during a year.  Right now, the number of homeless Vietnam era veterans is greater than the number of service persons who died during that war.

Already, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are appearing in the homeless population, and since many of them experienced urban warfare – the most dangerous of all combat – they are increasingly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

And the story gets worse. According to the U.S. Department of Labor,  the rate of unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in January,2011 was 15.2%.  “This should be a wakeup call for America,” said Paul Rieckoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We have a definite employment problem and it is getting worse.”

The VA and other organizations are trying to do something about this growing problem, that eventually will have an adverse effect on recruiting and retention, to say nothing about how it affects families. But the sad reality is that with government cutbacks, there is not enough money available for government to solve the problem.

While many companies in the private sector do offer some assistance, helping veterans is typically not the primary mission of companies, and so the vets get lost in the shuffle.  With no one to talk to about their problems, difficulty in getting a job, which contributes to homelessness, it is not hard to figure out why the suicide rate is rising. The question becomes: what can we do to help?

America is an amazingly resilient country when we all pull together, and if ever there was a time or reason for us to do that to help our vets, it is now. Like many social problems, they will not be solved by government, companies, foundations or any other entities, all of which are comprised by we the people.  Following is a quick list of things we can do.

What We Can Do

 – Show support for our vets overseas already via either organizations such as USO, the American Legion or the many organizations that send “care packages” to our troops overseas. A Google search will bring up a long list of them. The more support our troops get while they are deployed, the less alienated they will feel when they come home.

– Help the families of veterans in your community. If you live near a family with a deployed vet, drop in on them and see if they need help. If the vet knows his family is taken care of, then it will boost his or her morale.

– Volunteer – there are opportunities ranging from the USO lounges at airports, to packing boxes to be sent to vets serving overseas, or perhaps become a suicide prevention counselor.

– Spread the word.  Send a link to this blog to your friends, neighbors and colleagues, particularly if they are veterans or have sons and daughters serving our armed forces.

– Most importantly – if you know a vet, talk to them. Find out if they are having problems adjusting. Buy them a meal. Take them to the local VA hospital to get help. Show them some love and appreciation for their support.

I was in London about a year ago and I saw all these people wearing a red poppy flower in their lapel, or perhaps pinned to their blouses, and they were everywhere. Being inquisitive, I asked a cabby (also sporting a red poppy) what these were for. “They are to support Remembrance Day,” he said, “which is our way of remembering the members of our armed forces who have died on duty since WWI.”

Unfortunately, for too many Americans, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day are just another holiday to take the kids to the beach. England well knows how to appreciate their veterans and we should learn from them.

Maybe if we would all do a little more to help our veterans and show appreciation for their service, more of them would enjoy their senior years instead of taking their own lives, or spending their nights out on the cold, mean streets.

While we want to do more, to see one of our projects to show our appreciation for our armed forces, go to

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