David Lauderdale

Military veterans deserve our best efforts when they return home

Americans returning from war in the Middle East aren't home free.

They often face new battles with physical and psychological wounds. They need education, careers and a sense of contributing to a society starkly different from the one they just left in the military.

But they also face what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calls a "sea of goodwill."

Hundreds of thousands of public and private organizations are trying to help the veterans of a war on terror now grinding into its second decade.

"The challenge," U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen says, "is how do you connect that sea of goodwill to the need?"

Mentors are needed on campus -- where 88 percent of veterans will leave college in the first year -- and in the workplace, where 67 percent will leave their job in the first year.

"When they get back, we give back" is the motto being pushed on Hilton Head Island this week in speeches by U.S. Army Maj. Ed Kennedy from the Warrior and Family Support division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff office.

Kennedy, whose mother, Mary Kennedy, and uncle, Don Kennedy, live in Hilton Head Plantation, is among seven people in the office planning to visit 50 states in 50 months to bring attention to the challenges returning warriors face.

"We're sometimes criticized for outlining the challenges but not telling how to solve the problem," Kennedy said. "But we deliberately do not want to go into communities and give them the 'D.C. solution.' We're not trying to start new programs. This is not about money. It's more about making connections, and each community has different problems and different solutions."

Armed with a "white paper" called "Sea of Goodwill: Matching the Donor to the Need," Kennedy and his colleagues want civilians to plug gaps in what they call the "reintegration trinity" of education, employment and health care.

One community may target veterans' homelessness. Another, marriage enrichment.

But no community can afford to sit idly by when 300,000 service members are "working through the symptoms of post traumatic stress, and nearly 10 percent of service members were either wounded or required hospitalization while in Iraq," the white paper says.

When only 1 percent of the nation's population serves in the military, the 99 percent have the duty to recognize the difficulties veterans face -- and do something.

If you or your organization needs ideas or connections, check out WarriorGateway.org or the National Resource Directory at NRD.gov; or e-mail Kennedy at ed.kennedy@us.army.mil.