WASHINGTON — Former President George W. Bush hosted a Military Service Initiative Summit on Wednesday, and spoke about the many problems facing post-9/11 veterans and how his institute hopes to address them.
“A lot of people ask me, you know, do I miss much about being president. The answer really [is] no, [but] I do miss saluting men and women who volunteer to defend our nation during war. Many are coming home and are preparing for new missions as civilians. And I intend to salute these men and women for the rest of my life … And through the Military Service Initiative, the [George W.] Bush Institute is going to help [them],” Bush said at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
“Since 9/11, more than 2.5 million Americans have worn the uniform … They are the 1 percent of America who kept the 99 percent safe. And we owe them and their families a deep debt of gratitude. Our country can never really fully repay our vets, but we ought to try.”
Bush said his institute’s plans have been shaped by a joint study that the organization conducted with the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which he described as “one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted of post-9/11 veterans.” The full results won’t be released until the spring, but Bush gave the audience a preview of the study’s findings. He said the study yielded the following insights:
-- Of the 2.5 million post-9/11 veterans, more than 2 million served in Afghanistan or Iraq.
-- The average veteran spent one out of every three years overseas.
-- 82 percent of the post-9/11 veterans said that they would recommend military service to someone considering signing up, and 94 percent said they were proud of their military service.
-- 84 percent of the veterans say the American public has little awareness of the challenges they and their families face; 71 percent of Americans say they do not understand the problems facing our veterans.
-- Post-9/11 veterans face ever higher rates of unemployment than their civilian counterparts, and this is their top concern.
-- Veterans without a steady job are more susceptible to other problems, such as depression, addiction, homelessness and suicide.
-- The dropout rate for veterans exceeds 50 percent at some institutions of higher learning.
Bush said the Military Service Initiative will focus on the following broad tasks to make it easier for former servicemembers to transition to civilian life:
-- Help Americans understand what they can do as individuals to support veterans and empower them to succeed. “The [civilian-military] divide is exacerbated by public perceptions that the veteran is either a hero or to be pitied. Most veterans … don’t want lavish celebrations or expressions of condolences. And while it never hurts to say thank you, that’s not really the point,” Bush said. “What most veterans want is to have their service understood and appreciated for what it is … and now they want to experience the American dream.”
-- Help veterans translate their military skills to work in rewarding civilian jobs.
“From our research, we know one problem is that veterans and employers both have a hard time translating military experience [into obvious qualifications for civilian jobs]. That’s not surprising,” Bush said. “I mean, you don’t see many job postings that say, ‘Wanted: experience in hunting insurgents and terrorists, willing to risk life for co-workers.’ [But] when a resume says United States military, that means you can count on the applicant to be loyal, [they’ve] got good leadership, teamwork skills, and discipline. To an employer, that should mean a lot.”
-- Work with leaders at higher education institutions to promote innovate programs to improve the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of veterans at colleges and universities.
“Some veterans are ready to enter the workforce immediate, [but] others need to update their skills. [That’s] especially true for younger veterans who entered the military right after high school or a short stint in college,” Bush said. “At the Bush Center we believe it’s never too late to learn a new skill. [But] unlike many Americans struggling to make it through college, the [high dropout rate] problem here is not money, the problem is fitting in … Many [veterans] report feeling isolated from their classmates and/or their professors.”
-- Help businesses understand how they can improve their companies by hiring veterans, and enable employers to better tailor their recruitment and hiring efforts. “We’re going to send a broader message: Hiring veterans is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart thing to do,” the former president said.
-- Study and compare the more than 46,000 non-governmental organizations that list helping veterans as one of their missions, and develop tools and metrics to assess which ones perform better and deliver the best results.
“It can be overwhelming for newly returned veterans looking for help,” Bush said. “While these organizations have good intentions, I suspect some deliver better results than others.”
-- Help veterans get treatment if they are suffering from wounds of war, especially post-traumatic stress, and de-stigmatize mental health problems.
“PTS is treatable,” Bush said. Military and medical communities have made great strides in developing effective ways to reduce and overcome PTS. Like depression, PTS can be controlled through medication and therapy and other treatment. But like most serious injuries, it rarely goes away on its own. Those affected must get help … We are going to use our platform to make clear that veterans receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress are not ‘damaged goods’ [and] they are not mentally shattered. They are people who got hurt defending our country and are now overcoming wounds. Employers would not hesitate to hire an employee getting treated for a medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, and they should not hesitate to hire veterans getting treated for post-traumatic stress.”