Will America forget its veterans?

Communities should work to ensure that troops coming home have a better transition than my husband and I did. Give them the chance to use the superb skills the military gave them. We never forgot about you while we were deployed. Don’t forget about us when we come home.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
First lady Michelle Obama speaks at a National Symposium on Veterans’ Employment in Construction, hosted by the Labor Department, Feb. 10 in Washington. Ms. Obama said that a construction industry pledge to hire 100,000 veterans by 2019 isn't only the right and patriotic thing to do, but also a smart thing for business.

When the camera first panned to Michelle Obama sitting next to Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, a wounded warrior, during President Obama's State of the Union message last month, my breath caught in my throat. This proud noncommissioned officer was a guest of the first lady, and his presence alone was forcing all who saw him to remember that America remains a nation at war.

Later, the president told the story of meeting Remsburg shortly before he was injured on his 10th combat deployment, and of the long and grueling path to recovery he still travels. My family knows that road all too well. My husband, Brian, sustained a penetrating traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb in Iraq in October 2003, long before many of today's systems and services available to support wounded troops and military families existed. He "slipped through the cracks," and we both spent time on unemployment while waiting for his benefits to start after he was medically retired from the Army. He received no rehabilitation for his brain injury and got only sporadic mental-health care for his debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder.

And yet, we persevered, forming a supportive network of fellow veterans and gradually finding a new place in our community, with new ways to serve. It took six years before Brian could read a book again, but last month, he began using the GI Bill to attend college. Like Remsburg, we never quit.

My biggest fear is that the American people will forget us – their veterans. I worry that as the visible reminders of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fade from popular consciousness, so will the attention paid to troops, military families, and veterans. Yet the needs of US veterans will not end when the war does; they will just be beginning. Though over a lifetime veterans are more highly educated, employed, and paid than their civilian counterparts, the period of reintegration can be challenging.

Coming home to a nation distracted by celebrity gossip and seemingly oblivious to the experiences of deployed troops was jarring and disconcerting. As a woman veteran, I felt particularly invisible. Many people had no idea that women were serving in combat alongside men, despite what the regulations said about keeping us out of direct ground combat jobs and units. Reentering the workforce was challenging. It was tough to translate military skills and experiences into civilian terms, and to adjust to a less hierarchical, more collaborative environment. Attending college classes with people fresh out of high school can feel like being in a war-tested version of the Adam Sandler movie "Billy Madison."

Brian and I are very fortunate: Over the years, he has enjoyed tremendous cognitive and psychological improvement, we have been able to access mental-health care when needed, and we have both used benefits we earned from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, we are contributing community members, solid employees, proud parents, and a strong married couple.

As today's troops come home, become veterans, and reenter civilian society, communities across the country should come together to ensure they have a smoother transition than we did. The military gave them superb practical and leadership skills they can put to good use here at home; give them the chance to use them. We never forgot about you while we were deployed. Don't forget about us when we come home.

Kayla Williams is a project associate at the RAND Corp. and author of the recently released "Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.