- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2010

Amid the Fourth of July celebrations, let us not forget the millions of veterans who returned home with serious injuries as a result of their service to protect our nation. Injured veterans face a host of physical, psychological and financial problems that can seriously affect their quality of life if not properly addressed. The tragic reality is that even though the U.S. government has substantially increased the budgets of both the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs and devoted ever-increasing resources to our wounded military, the long-term nature of the challenges facing our wounded veterans necessitates public-private partnerships. We as a nation need to come together to give our wounded the world-class care they deserve and ensure their needs are met.

Every day, 1.4 million active-duty members of our military give up a part of their lives to serve their country, and some of them will become injured. It is sometimes easy to forget that we are fighting two of our nation’s longest wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq already has lasted longer than World War II and the Korean War combined, while the conflict in Afghanistan is approaching the length of the Vietnam War. More than 30,000 U.S. troops have been wounded in those efforts, which are taking place in rugged terrain halfway around the world. Although we have begun to draw down troops in Iraq, some kind of presence likely will be necessary for years, while our current plans to leave Afghanistan depend upon the situation there improving dramatically.

Meanwhile, the nature of war has changed since earlier conflicts, including World War II and Vietnam. Thanks to advances in medical technology, faster emergency evacuations, better medic training and state-of-the-art treatment, more soldiers than ever are surviving the battlefield. That’s great news, but we should not overlook the fact that it also means we have many more seriously injured veterans returning home. We have veterans from World War II, Vietnam, Korea and the first Gulf War who still need medical care. These veterans cannot be forgotten.

America’s involvement with the military also has changed. Today’s all-volunteer military is well-trained and deeply committed to service, but it does not draw from as wide a pool of society as did conflicts such as World War II. That means many Americans don’t personally know someone who is serving - a fact that makes it all too easy to lose touch with some of the basic realities of military life. That includes the realities of injury.

Wounded veterans returning home many times have serious and long-term needs. They may need new prosthetic legs to help them walk, rehabilitation to adjust to their injuries or skin grafts to heal from a burn, but their needs are not just physical. Injured veterans need emotional support and counseling to learn how to cope with the consequences of their injuries and understand the circumstances that led to them. On top of combat injuries, military personnel and their families face financial stress because of extended deployments.More than 50 percent of those injured in the current conflicts served in the National Guard or the Reserve. Many suffer pay cuts when deployed, further stressing family budgets. In some cases, their injuries may prevent them from returning to their civilian jobs, which can lead to a downward spiral of financial means as they struggle to support their families. Given the numbers of wounded and the long-term nature of their challenges, we as Americans need to work to ensure that those who selflessly devote their lives to defend our country have the resources they need for a secure financial future.

Undoubtedly, military families deserve their piece of the American dream. So this Fourth of July, make a commitment to helping our nation’s wounded veterans. Let your elected officials know that taking care of wounded veterans is a priority to you as a voter. If you are making a philanthropic donation this year, consider supporting one of the many nonprofits that are helping wounded veterans or volunteer your time to lend a hand. And, if you know someone who is returning from war with an injury, make a commitment to help that veteran and his or her family. Private-public partnerships will be the primary lifeblood for injured veterans and their families as they continue needing long-term, ongoing care. Our veterans sacrifice years of their time and risk their lives on a daily basis to serve our nation and defend our freedoms. Let us all show our appreciation.

James Schenck is president of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation, a nonprofit supporting military personnel and their families.