The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff praised caregivers and other people and organizations that support the nation’s military veterans at an event in Washington, D.C., Oct. 30.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., who spoke at the Military Officers Association of America Community Heroes Award Dinner, also extended his thoughts and prayers to Hurricane Sandy victims, noting the Defense Department is teaming with other federal agency and state and local partners in response and recovery efforts.
“We in DOD are working very, very hard in support of our civilian partners [and] in support of the various states that have been impacted by this [storm],” Winnefeld said.
Turning to the association hosting the event, he noted that the nonprofit organization’s legacy of support for the military can be traced to its 1920s roots in Southern California, with an enduring focus on advocacy for and assistance to fellow and former members of the military.
“We recognize the ongoing efforts of … individuals, organizations and family members who comprise the sea of goodwill and have made such a tremendous difference,” Winnefeld said.
He reminded attendees that “half a world away,” the nation remains at war.
“We’ve already furled the battle flags from Iraq,” Winnefeld said. “We need to make sure that our support for these men and women doesn’t fade over time, long after the battle flags from Afghanistan are furled over the next couple of years.”
Winnefeld listed several steps Americans should take to assist Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
“As our troops transition to civilian life, we have to continue to highlight that employing a veteran is not charity,” Winnefeld said. “Who better to hire than someone with transportable skills, who has ingrained discipline and … so clearly [demonstrates] the willingness to sacrifice for something bigger than themselves?”
With a 12 percent unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans and a million more service members preparing to re-enter the workforce in coming years, Americans must do more to ensure veterans have a place to sleep at night, Winnefeld said.
“Tonight, one-third of the entire adult homeless population in our nation is veterans,” Winnefeld said.
Despite charities in Washington and beyond aimed at reducing homelessness among the veteran population through housing, employment assistance and career counseling programs, he noted, more than 67,000 former troops sleep on the streets.
“There’s more we can do to both prevent this from happening in the first place and … get those who have fallen into homelessness back on their feet … into the workplace and … [into] a proper home,” he said.
The admiral also noted caregivers’ attention to wounded warriors and gave thanks for the technical advances over the last decade during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including rapid movement from the battlefield and post-battlefield medical care.
“We’re … grateful for the immediate caregivers, the remarkable, dedicated medical professionals we have across the spectrum of care,” Winnefeld said. “From battlefield corpsmen … to those in … facilities in Afghanistan … [and at] Landstuhl, to the people who receive and transport … wounded warriors, to [continental U.S.] medical facilities.”
The admiral praised the professionals who saved many American warriors, noting more lives would have been lost in earlier wars.
“Thankfully, as these warriors return to a grateful nation, they will be with us for decades, but that means we need to make sure we take care of them and their unseen and seen wounds for decades,” Winnefeld said.
Injured veterans require the support and attention of caregivers, communities and families, who all, in turn, need the nation’s support, the admiral said.
“This is a family business we’re in … and the role … these essential caregivers [fill] is indescribable in its importance and sacrifice,” Winnefeld said. “These people literally drop everything for years at a time to care for our injured, giving up their careers and their lives … they are patriots, and we must do all we can to provide them the direct and indirect support that they need and deserve.”
Other caregivers, Winnefeld added, push the bounds of military medicine and therapy in areas such as prosthetics and physical rehabilitation, giving courage and hope to a new generation of wounded warriors.
“Thanks to all these caregivers, our wounded sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have a future that’s brighter than ever before,” Winnefeld said. “Yet even with [the] outstanding support of our caregivers, our collective work is not complete; there’s more work to do.”
The admiral encouraged the nation to renew its resolve to provide a continuum of care that reflects the same level of commitment veterans have shown their country on the battlefield.
“Together, we can continue to fulfill the commitment.”