This holiday season, as we take time to reflect on the many blessings in our lives, we should keep in mind and give thanks to the troops who are serving our country today and the veterans who have served in the past. These are the selfless men and women who have made possible the freedom and opportunity that we enjoy.
There are 393,000 veterans living in Massachusetts today. Since September 11, 2001, more than 37,000 Massachusetts residents have returned home from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans and their families live all around us in our communities, but they make great efforts to avoid recognition and to quietly and humbly go about their lives.
With a new generation of veterans returning home, we must remain steadfast in our efforts to support their reintegration into our communities. As George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
The need to support our veterans remains great. One in every 3 homeless individuals in the Commonwealth is a veteran. Many veterans struggle to find and keep a job, and to support themselves and their families. It is estimated that one in three Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from significant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) -- the invisible wounds of war.
Massachusetts has long been a national leader in the quality and comprehensiveness of the veterans services that we provide on a state and local level. Our support goes above and beyond federal VA benefits, and includes education benefits, housing and employment assistance, healthcare, and financial assistance when needed.
Earlier in this legislative session, the state legislature passed the Valor Act, which is helping to provide better employment opportunities for veterans and to increase support for the families of deceased veterans. We are also pursuing a new and promising court supervised program for veterans who are struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. Under this voluntary program, which goes well beyond ordinary probation, the courts promote recovery and stability through a close collaboration with the VA and the support of fellow veterans who serve as peer mentors.
We can all honor the sacrifices made by our troops and veterans and show our gratitude. Hire a veteran in your business. Send a care package to soldiers overseas. Volunteer at a VA soup kitchen this holiday season. Get involved with Helping Our Troops, a wonderful local organization founded by two Stoneham veterans, Frank Geary and Walter Kopek. You can learn more about H.O.T. and support their efforts by visiting their website: www.helpingourtroopsma.org.
As we appreciate our families and good fortune this holiday season, let’s remember the words of John F. Kennedy who said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
31st Middlesex District – Stoneham and Winchester