Kurtz: Reciprocating the sacrifice of American veterans

Michael Kurtz

On the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns fell silent in Europe.

In remembrance of that wrenching, bloody and senseless conflict, which took the lives of more than 115,000 Americans, as well as 1 million Frenchmen, 1 million British and 2 million Germans, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919.

We now call it Veterans Day, in memory of Americans who died in combat all the way from the Revolutionary War to the current conflict in Iraq. Its 82nd anniversary is coming up Friday.

So now would be a good time to recognize the painful fact that veterans – brave people who disrupt their lives to serve – are among the hardest hit by this recession.

There are roughly 25 million veterans living in the United States right now, with some 2 million of those having served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veteran unemployment, which stands at 11.7 percent, outstrips the civilian rate of 9 percent, and the problem is even worse for veterans under 30, of whom approximately 24 percent are jobless.

Homelessness is another major issue plaguing veterans; more than 130,000. including 10,000 from Iraq and Afghanistan, currently sleep on the streets.

To combat the first problem of veteran joblessness, Senate Democrats proposed tax incentives last week ranging from $2,400 to $9,600 for businesses that hire veterans as well as funding job skills training and career development programs – a “reverse boot camp” for service members looking to return to civilian life.

Republicans have remained non-committal to the legislation, citing concerns about its funding. In hopes of garnering bipartisan support, however, Democrats have removed the bill’s attachment to a surtax on millionaires’ income, so it is hard to see where any opposition would come from.

Recently, there has been significant good news on this front.

In August, the American Logistics Association announced it would hire 25,000 veterans in conjunction with its 270 affiliate companies by the end of 2013. This represents the largest coordinated private sector effort of its kind to date.

Although the onus lies on the federal government and the private sector to help generate jobs for vets, we as college students can directly affect the second problem – that of veteran homelessness.

I humbly suggest contributing to one of the best charities that provides for homeless veterans, New Directions, which recently received the Presidential Citizens Medal from the White House in honor of its “exemplary deeds of service.”

Founded by John Keaveney, who served in Vietnam and was once homeless himself, the organization provides housing for at least one year to homeless vets as well as those with mental health problems or addictions.

New Directions is based in Los Angeles, which has the most homeless vets in the country, and has helped more than 20,000 veterans repair their lives.

Those interested in a more hands-on experience can volunteer at a Veterans Affairs hospital. The nearest one is located at 820 S. Damen in Chicago and is accessible on the El’s Blue Line.

Veterans Day is fast approaching and 41,000 troops are coming home from Iraq this December.

We should, if our resources allow, give back however we can to those who serve in uniform.

Michael Kurtz is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]