Kennedy: This Veterans Day, do your part to honor today’s heroes - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Kennedy: This Veterans Day, do your part to honor today’s heroes

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Dr. Thomas A. Kennedy is president of Integrated Defense Systems at Raytheon. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1977-1983, attaining the rank of captain.

Posted: Friday, November 9, 2012 9:10 am | Updated: 7:20 pm, Sun Nov 11, 2012.

Companies that hire veterans employ men and women who have received some of the world’s best skills and leadership training. They’ve been pushed to achieve high personal performance and know how to work in teams — they’ve had to cover someone’s back. They bring all this to work every day, along with their personal integrity and strength of character.

We need to help more veterans make the transition to a successful civilian career.

At a time when leaders across the political spectrum agree on the need to boost employment, most of us would also agree that our veterans deserve an extra level of support in getting a job.

Today, while we collectively honor the brave men and women who have served our country, we must also commit to providing that support. American businesses and individual citizens, working with community organizations and private charities, can make a huge difference now.

It won’t be easy. The challenges are immense.

We’re in the middle of an unprecedented influx of veterans. Since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began, 2.4 million soldiers have returned home.

Coming back from war and adjusting to the civilian world can be difficult. Many veterans suffer serious combat wounds. Many more carry emotional and psychological scars. They need a range of support -- from education and re-training, to career guidance and job-hunting skills, to appropriate role models and mentors.

We can’t assume that government agencies can handle this task. For example, the Veterans Affairs (VA) wing of the federal government is, like the rest of the military, under severe fiscal pressures. There likely won’t be a substantial expansion in VA services over the next few years. That’s why the private sector and individual citizens need to step up to help provide the educational, professional, and mental health services veterans need to thrive.

Here are some ways we all can help.

First, recognize that this isn’t a partisan issue. Whether you live in a blue state or a red state, chances are that you are connected to someone in the military -- either in your own family or that of a friend, neighbor, or co-worker. Make a commitment to do what you can to help.

Second, learn about and support the work of the many top-notch organizations supporting veterans. Become an advocate for these groups in your workplace. Volunteer for an organization helping veterans in your community. Already, millions of Americans contribute their time and money to veteran causes. If you’d like to join them, contact your local veterans chapter. Even small efforts can make a huge impact for soldiers returning home.

For our part, Raytheon supports several organizations making a difference today. The Student Veterans of America, for instance, focuses on supporting veterans enrolled in school, helping them socially adjust and reach graduation. The Wounded Warrior Project also does excellent work in helping combat veterans adjust and integrate. And Operation Homelink provides free computer technology to veteran families.

Whether as businesses or individual citizens, we can help returning veterans start their new lives off the battlefield. This is the ultimate way to show thanks for their sacrifice.

Veterans Day should be an occasion for celebration -- our nation’s military men and women have engaged in incredible acts of bravery and self-sacrifice and deserve to be honored.

But today should also bring solemn reflection. Many veterans come home and have a difficult time transitioning to a post-military life. They need better support. American businesses should increase their hiring of veterans and expand their partnerships with the private charities that sustain them.

Let’s welcome home our war heroes by giving them ample opportunities for success.

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