The talks surrounding the fiscal cliff have attracted a lot of attention in the military community, and with good reason. But as the calendar moves into 2013, there are many other issues facing servicemembers and veterans other than the Pentagon budget, from veteran homelessness and unemployment to mental health challenges.
The Obama administration has made addressing veteran homelessness one of its priorities. In fact, administration officials have vowed to end homelessness among vets by as soon as 2015. While it's certainly a lofty goal, considerable progress has been made. But, as the military community enters 2013, there is still work to be done, especially among the most recent veterans, according to recent government data.
Over the last two years, the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes has risen substantially. In fact, by the end of September this year, the number of vets close to losing their home, staying in temporary housing or living on the streets stood at more than 26,500. Just two years earlier, the figure was at 10,500, according to USA Today.
"They're younger, much more savvy and they don't necessarily like to ask for help," Anne Murphy, a Salvation Army program director in Los Angeles, told the publication. "But there are a lot of them out there."
There's reason to be hopeful, however. In 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs implemented a new program that provides community nonprofits with the funding to help out homeless veterans, USA Today notes.
Unemployment among veterans
Finding a job is one of the greatest challenges for soldiers who separate from service, but there have been significant strides in helping make the process a bit easier. Most notably, the 2011 VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides more education and training opportunities to help troops transition into civilian life. It also offers tax cuts to employers who hire veterans.
The programs seem to have paid off. The unemployment rate among the veteran population sat at around 6.6 percent in November. Although it was a slight uptick from the month before, it is lower than the national rate. Though the jobless rate for post-9/11 vets stood a bit higher at 10 percent, compared to 2011 it is down considerably.
Of course, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act is not the only resource available to unemployed soldiers. They may also want to head to the AFBA Career Center, which works to connect employers and veteran job seekers.
Of all the challenges facing soldiers, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two of the most urgent. Some experts estimate that as many as 20 percent of the vets of Iraq and Afghanistan have one or both conditions. Though there is still much to learn about PTSD and TBI, the military community made substantial strides during 2012 in addressing the issue. These paint an encouraging picture for 2013.
Among the most proactive steps was the creation of a treatment center at Bethesda, Maryland's National Intrepid Center of Excellence dedicated specifically to TBI and PTSD. The innovative new hospital is analyzing the effectiveness of a wide variety of treatment options – from music to pet therapy. Scientists are also analyzing MRI scans of the brain to measure how TBI and PTSD manifest themselves, according to American Forces Press Service.
As the military enters a new year, there are undoubtedly serious challenges ahead. However, the pieces are in place and with organizations such as Joining Forces, an initiative led by first lady Michelle Obama, there is certainly the will to address them.