Congressman John Rutherford represents Florida's 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently serves on the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee and is a former member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Veterans Day is an especially important occasion in Northeast Florida, home to one the most heavily military and veteran populations in the country. It is an honor to serve this community in Congress, and on Veterans Day, our citizens came together to pause and honor the many brave and selfless men and women in our community who served our nation at home and abroad. Like many communities across America, we proudly waved our flags, spent time remembering family members' military careers, and made a point to thank the veterans in our lives for their service.
And each year, as Veterans Day comes and goes, it is a good reminder that we must not put our gratitude, our patriotism, and the needs of our veterans on the shelf until next November comes around. Each of us, and especially those of us in Congress, must keep focused on the many challenges our veterans face and maintain our commitment to their needs all year long.
Veterans Day, like every other day this year, 20 veterans on average took their own life. Among younger veterans, this number is even higher. Veterans struggle with depression and PTSD at a rate five and fifteen times higher than non-veterans. As this publication reported just this month, 38,000 veterans are without stable housing. And, while veteran unemployment has dropped to 2.9 percent, underemployment continues to be a major challenge for veterans transitioning out of active duty service. In fact, a recent study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that 44 percent of veterans leave their first post-military job within a year. As I have learned through many conversations with veterans who struggle with employment, having an uncertain economic future only exacerbates many of the mental health challenges that too many face.
For those of us in Congress focused on improving the lives of our veterans, these facts demonstrate an urgent need to further help these heroes. Over the past year, my colleagues on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Phil Roe and Economic Opportunity Subcommittee Chairman Jodey Arrington, held numerous roundtables, hearings and meetings with veteran organizations, government agencies, active duty service members and veterans to get to the heart of why so many veterans struggle with mental health, homelessness, and underemployment.
What we found is an issue of both resources and program focus. In 2018, the federal government spent billions supporting the active duty mission of the nation, yet only a small portion of that goes to aiding our active duty service members transition to civilian life. We learned that the coursework is not tailored to the service member, the required courses are not conducted at the most effective time, the data tracking outcomes are not sufficient, and the curriculum itself is not made a priority.
Ultimately, we are not adequately equipping our men and women with the resources and skills needed to be successful in the next chapter of their lives.
In response, Congress has been working on ways to improve the resources available to those transitioning from fighting force to civilian workforce. We developed H.R. 5649, the Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William "Bill" Mulder (Ret.) Transition Improvement Act, which would bring the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) into the modern age. This landmark legislation, which passed the House and is supported by the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Student Veterans of America, helps veterans translate their unique military training and experience to successful civilian careers in high-demand fields.
This bill also includes a provision I introduced known as the Veterans Armed for Success Act, which provides grant funding for local non-profit organizations to implement job skills training programs. I have seen the huge impact programs like these have made in my own community in Jacksonville. When communities get involved and help veterans find stable, long-term employment, we see better outcomes for all.
Congress has the responsibility to fight for those who fought for us. We made a promise to provide for our veterans in return for their selfless service, and this includes providing our veterans the tools needed to thrive after their military service ends. While we in Congress have taken steps to improve TAP programming, our job is not done. Future reforms must tackle issues that have been neglected for far too long.
In these polarizing times, leaders of all political stripes continue to be united by the belief that our men and women in uniform deserve better. On this Veterans Day, and every day, let us be reminded of that common purpose and press forward on our efforts to improve the lives of those who fought for us.
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