Joint Chief Winnefeld: Time To Remember Vets ‘Who Have Given So Much’

Sunday, 27 May 2012 04:07 PM

By Paul Scicchitano

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As America’s decade of war winds down, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James Winnefeld, and his wife Mary tell Newsmax TV that employers should now remember our returning veterans “who have given so much” on this Memorial Day weekend.

“I would say that all of our veterans who are coming home from this decade of conflict that we’ve had, they are wonderful people to employ,” explained the second-highest ranking military officer in the United States in an exclusive interview with Newsmax. “They need work when they decide to leave the military.”

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Winnefeld points to the benefits U.S. veterans offer potential employers — even as returning servicemen and servicewomen continue to struggle with higher-than-average unemployment and a difficult job market.

He also warned that our wounded, ill, and injured warriors will require a “continuum of care” for decades to come, noting that disabled veterans from America’s dual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were willing to make great sacrifices for their country.

“I think for the wounded, ill and injured warriors, they need the best possible care that we can give them — a continuum of care that not only started on the battlefield and extended all the way to the wonderful medical facilities that we have here in the United States — but beyond,” he stressed. “These folks are going to be with us for decades.”

Since Ameria's war on terror began in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, some 48,083 Americans have been wounded in combat, largely in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Winnefeld and his wife Mary, an advocate for military families and care givers in her own right, spoke with Newsmax earlier this week before addressing an audience at the Got Heart, Give Hope Gala to benefit Hope For The Warriors, a national, nonprofit organization that supports wounded U.S. service members, their families, and families of the fallen.

“We want to be part of this event because it’s such an important contribution to the critical care that we need to give to our wounded warriors — our ill, and injured warriors — who really deserve the best that our country can give them after they’ve given so much to their country,” the admiral declared.

This week’s gala was hosted by actor Gary Sinise and retired New York City firefighter John Vigiano at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. with music by GAC Top 20 Country Singer James Wesley. Vigiano lost two sons — John Jr., a firefighter, and Joe, a policeman, at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Since its formation in 2006 by a group of military spouses, The Hope For The Warriors has raised more than $2.5 million.

“We think about the power of the military spouse. These people really came together and did some fantastic work,” observed the admiral, who is perhaps best known for taking the initiative to turn around the USS Enterprise and set sail for Afghanistan before receiving authorization to do so immediately after the initial 9/11 strike on the World Trade Center.

Mary Winnefeld, who has been present when military families have had to make end-of-life decisions for their loved ones, agreed that long-term care is the most pressing need for America’s wounded warriors.

“We have wonderful care for them when they’re injured. But I really worry that down the road that America’s going to remember to take care of these wonderful individuals that have given so much to us,” she said. “They’ve given up in some cases their life — in many cases limbs — and other traumatic brain injuries.

“So for me, the greatest need right now is making sure that they’re taken care of over the long haul,” she emphasized.

At a time when much of the focus is understandably on the injured and seriously ill service members, America must also remember their caregivers, according to the Winnefelds.

“We need to make sure they’re taken care of for the long haul. But we also need to make sure that the families are being taken care of, and the caregivers,” asserted Mary Winnefeld. “That may include job training, access to jobs — whether they be a full-time career or something that’s a little bit more flexible that they can do while they’re still taking care of their wounded vet.”

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), disabled veterans face special challenges in the job market, particularly those returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, who may suffer from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which many employers do not know how to accommodate.

The unemployment rate for veterans between ages 18 and 24 is more than 17 percent, down from 29 percent, but Tim Tetz, legislative director of the American Legion told CNN Sunday that younger veterans still face a higher unemployment rate than their civilian counterparts, which stands at 15 percent. Older veterans are especially struggling to find employment.

"Of the 780,000 veterans who are currently out of a job, two-thirds of them are between the ages of 35 and 64," Tetz told CNN. "And they might not have the resources like the GI Bill and many of the other things that these younger veterans have to use."

Some employers have been reticent to hire veterans at all, believing that all veterans are likely to have such conditions, the EEOC has noted.

“I can’t imagine a more loyal employee to have than somebody who’s laid their life on the line for their country,” countered Winnefeld, adding that support systems are in place to help veterans and their families.

“We just need to make sure that over the coming decades we put it to work so that we can put our veterans to work and take the best possible care of them,” he said.

The admiral acknowledged that unseen injuries will afflict some returning veterans after leaving their military service behind.

“Sometimes these are unseen injuries and we need to do the very best that we can as a nation for them — for decades to come,” he stressed.

Mary Winnefeld adds that the key is awareness.

“I think the key is making sure that we make our veterans aware of all of the wonderful resources that are out there,” she explained. “There are several initiatives from all of these non-profit organizations that are helping our vets — to the White House and their Joining Forces initiative.”

Note: Please find information for Hope for the Warriors at www.hopeforthewarriors.org.




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