This year, Veterans Day comes on the heels of a long election season. The divisiveness that characterized this election must now be overcome so that the big issues we face can be addressed. When Congress reconvenes here in D.C. on Tuesday, let’s hope they will remember the values we honor on Veterans Day – patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
As we thank veterans for their service, we should seize the opportunity to talk with them about how we can better support them. The more than 1 million veterans returning home in the coming years will join more than 21 million living veterans. Our veterans are older than the general population and almost twice as likely to have some form of a disability.
In Eugene, OR, city leaders engaged in this conversation and recognized that one need of returning veterans is a stable and affordable place to call home while they determine the right next steps to take. Using an initial public investment and community support to purchase and renovate properties for below market value, the city is now able to offer veterans an affordable place to call home while generating enough income to build a reserve fund that will be used to purchase additional properties.
In Houston, TX, community leaders recognized the need for a central coordinating agent to meet the needs of veterans. To meet this need, the city created a municipal level Office of Veterans’ Affairs. To facilitate an on-going conversation with veterans, the city has a Community Council made up of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are currently working with their peers transitioning out of active duty.
Both of these cities fostered community conversations about how to collaboratively meet the needs of veterans. If we are to honor our veterans beyond rhetoric, parades, ribbons, and medals, city leaders must make veterans’ needs a priority. With veterans–particularly post 9/11 veterans–struggling to find full-time work, more veterans returning home with service-connected disabilities than in past conflicts, and public resources stretched thin, leadership and collaboration are more important than ever.
This year, honor veterans by starting a conversation in your city and moving it forward. Regardless of our politics, supporting those who have served us is something we can all agree on.