Freedom is Not "Free" for Those Who Serve
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 by Monsignor Michael M. Boland

Our nation is deeply indebted to members of our military.  They have made America the land of the free.   But we must remember that freedom is not “free.”  Many of our veterans pay a high price for their brave service to our country, and it is our duty to serve and protect them, as they have served and protected us. 

We know that an inadequate response to returning soldiers after military conflicts can impact veterans for decades afterwards.  At Catholic Charities, we see this first-hand in the thousands of former soldiers who come to us for assistance.  

Whether it’s a hot meal , a warm place to sleep, counseling and substance abuse treatment, employment and job training programs, medical care, or a combination of all these services together, Catholic Charities is privileged to serve courageous veterans who have made extraordinary personal sacrifices for the good of our nation. 

Catholic Charities recognizes that serving veterans in the future will require a two-pronged approach: while we must enhance services for aging veterans, we must also design and expand services for the thousands of “new” veterans arriving home from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.   Developing a comprehensive and effective response to this group of heroes takes on new urgency as hundreds of thousands of new veterans will make their way back to U.S. soil over the next several years.  There are already 76,000 new veterans in Illinois alone, and that number will grow as more return home.   

This “new” group of veterans has a vastly different set of needs than their older counterparts.  They are younger, have less civilian work experience, and are much more likely to have been exposed to combat and have multiple deployments than previous generations of veterans.   There are also more female veterans than ever before.

New veterans are returning home to  an economy with few decent paying jobs, a shortage of affordable housing, systems of care that have grown accustomed to serving older and predominately male veterans, and complicated and confusing veteran benefit programs that are often backlogged and overburdened.  These systemic problems are exacerbated by soldiers’ physical and psychological wounds that can contribute to substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. 

Considering these challenges, it is remarkable that the majority of veterans return home and make a successful transition to civilian life without additional help.  However, far too many end up jobless, homeless, hungry, and living in poverty.  It is for this group of soldiers that we must do better.

The Veteran’s  Administration, while paramount in veteran services, cannot  alone bear the responsibility of struggling military, whose problems are too complex and needs far too great.   We must have the partnership of government agencies, veteran’s organizations, educational institutions, employers, philanthropic and community groups, religious organizations, churches and volunteers.   Over the past 10 years, Catholic Charities has been a leader in bringing these diverse groups together to create collaborative programs that get veterans the help they need to lead healthy and productive civilian lives.

I would like to personally invite you to join us at Catholic Charities’ Veterans In Need Dinner on April 26, 2013 where you can learn more about the innovative and effective ways Catholic Charities is serving both aging and new veterans, and recognize how you—as an employer, parishioner, donor, or volunteer—can get involved in this effort.

We, as a community and nation, must help veterans find their peace and prosperity, as they so bravely fought for ours.

To purchase dinner or raffle tickets to support the Veterans In Need Dinner, please visit www.catholiccharities.net , or call (312) 655-7907.


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