Bush with Wounded Warrior

President George W. Bush with Wounded Warriors

A number of heroes were born inside the fiery inferno that engulfed the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

The firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers who risked their lives to rush into the burning Twin Towers and the Pentagon; the estimated 3,000 Americans who were murdered on that awful day, and their family members who are still suffering 10 years later; and our servicemen and women who immediately shipped off to Afghanistan and later Iraq, guns in hand, to make sure we weren’t hit by another September 11-like terrorist attack.

All of the above deserve to be respected and honored as America marks the somber, 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But today I’d like to shine a spotlight  on the third group: the military heroes of Sept. 11. Specifically, our Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen who bravely went off to Afghanistan or Iraq and returned home horribly wounded. Thousands of our servicemen and women have lost their arms or legs, or been severely burned, blinded, paralyzed or even brain damaged. If you think they returned home to a heroes’ welcome, guess again.

In a moment I’ll detail the shoddy treatment many are receiving from our government, and the other gut-wrenching problems they are facing. As you read my list, consider this: You and I (and many other Americans) could very well owe our lives to the brave but broken military heroes of Sept. 11. Please remember, our military’s most important mission in the immediate aftermath of September 11th was to protect America from another devastating terrorist attack.

They have done that, for 10 long years.

I know good, patriotic Americans disagree on public policy regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time it’s true that the follow-up terror attack so many of us feared after September 11th never happened. And I believe our uniformed men and women deserve much of the credit for that. Don’t you?

But instead of returning home to a heroes’ welcome, they are returning home to nightmares like:
 
POVERTY – Yes, poverty. The Defense Department recently admitted that because of the sluggish government bureaucracy, wounded troops and veterans are waiting an average of 400 days – or more than a year – to receive their first disability check after leaving the hospital and being separated from the military. As a result many are unable to feed their children and literally struggling to survive.

I’m aware of one wounded soldier who was forced to wait in line at a public pantry to feed his family. The wife of another injured soldier resorted to selling her blood plasma to get money for groceries.

HOMELESSNESS – According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 107,000 veterans are homeless at any one time. Some have been evicted while waiting for their first government disability check to arrive (see above.) Others desperately need help for war-related medical and psychological problems such as post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

UNEMPLOYMENT – Many of our most severely wounded troops – such as those who have been burned head-to-toe or have suffered amputations, blindness or brain damage – will never be able to work again. That said, the jobless rate for wounded veterans who can work is 21.1 percent – far above the national average.

HOME FORECLOSURES – More than 20,000 veterans, active-duty troops and reservists who took out special government-backed mortgages lost their homes last year — the highest number since 2003, according to a February 2011 USA Today article. And the rate of foreclosure filings last year among 163 ZIP codes near military bases has skyrocketed 32 percent since 2008, according to the RealtyTrac foreclosure research firm.

BROKEN MARRIAGES AND SUICIDES – All of these problems are tearing apart the lives and families of the wounded heroes of Sept. 11 USA Today reported last year that “Suicides are at record levels. The divorce rate among enlisted soldiers has steadily increased during the war years. Rates of mental health and prescription drug abuse are on the rise.”

As an Army general who served during three wars, I can tell you that is no way to treat a hero! And as a patriot I’m sure you agree.

So what can be done to rescue our severely wounded servicemen and women who have suffered such painful injuries while defending us in the aftermath of Sept. 11?

First, the government needs to start upholding its end of the deal when it comes to our severely wounded troops. I’m quite sure the Big Banks and auto companies didn’t have to wait a full year for their bailout checks. So why should our troops who have served so honorably – and selflessly – have to wait a year for the disability check they earned by shedding their own flesh and blood? Second, medical professionals and counselors can reach out to wounded heroes suffering from traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder – the signature wound of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Third, businesses can be on the lookout to hire injured servicemen and women who are looking for a hand up, not a hand out.

Finally, what about patriotic Americans like you and me, who also want to help? Is there something we can do? Absolutely. The next time you see a wounded hero in your neighborhood, church or shopping mall, consider telling them, “I just want to say thank you for the sacrifice you have made for our country.” I promise you they will remember your kind words for a long, long time.

You can also support the good works done for severely wounded troops by private charities.

However you decide to help the wounded military heroes of Sept. 11, I can assure you they will deeply appreciate it. They were there for us, and now it’s our turn to be there for them.

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