Troops in Iraq will complete their withdrawal by the end of the year. They may no longer be stationed there, but they carry a piece of the war with them everywhere they go. While the nation may be moving on, for our troops, the Iraq War remains an ongoing battle as some work to overcome their injuries while others struggle to assimilate back into the workforce and with their families.
If you’ve turned on the television this month, you’ve seen the videos, sometimes more than once. A group of service members proudly marches into a gymnasium, salutes the U.S. flag, and then the troops are overwhelmed by the cheers and hugs of their friends and family members. For many Americans, this will be the image they hold of the end of the Iraq War. With thousands of troops scheduled to return home by the end of the month, the perception is that this long and difficult military conflict is finally coming to a close.
This is only partly true. As a military engagement and a public-policy issue, the Iraq War definitely is moving from the news pages to the history books. But for these troops, the ongoing battle isn’t a chapter they can close quickly. It’s an inflection point that will affect everything moving forward. It’s part of who they are now.
The videos of the troops returning home are heartwarming, especially during the holiday season, and a lot of us will find this satisfying after a long war. But they don’t tell the whole story.
What we don’t see is video of the next day and the day after that. The day a veteran has trouble learning to walk again at a Veterans Affairs hospital while also figuring out how to provide day care for his or her children. The father struggling to pay the monthly bills as he looks for a new job. The family that burned through its savings while mom was overseas and needs an emergency loan. The family working to re-connect after putting lives on hold for a year or more.
The problems of returning troops aren’t on the top of Americans’ minds these days. A recent CBS News-New York Times poll showed most think the biggest problem the country is facing is the economy and the poor jobs market. The wars in Iraq and Afghan-istan, once among Americans’ top concerns, didn’t even make the list. Yet as Americans turn to more domestic priorities, we should not forget that those affect our returning troops just as much, if not more. A poor economy makes it hard for a veteran to find a job.
The Iraq War will continue to have an effect on our veterans for years to come. Those who have fought have been injured physically and mentally. Just because they are no longer physically in Iraq doesn’t mean they no longer carry the conflict of Iraq inside them. Just as these troops left their mark on Iraq, the country left its mark on them, and they will carry their experiences with them, mentally and physically, for the rest of their lives.
That is why it’s important for us to make a commitment to helping these troops get back some of what they lost, restart their lives and recover from their injuries. Consider making a donation this holiday season to one of the many nonprofits working to support returning troops and their families to show that we care.
The more than 30,000 troops injured in the Iraq War over the past nine years will need ongoing care, some for the rest of their lives, and those who were lucky not to sustain an injury still need help picking up where they left off. So let’s make one of our New Year’s resolutions to help the thousands of troops who are returning home from Iraq and give them the care and support they need and deserve.
Christopher Flynn is president of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation (PenFedFoundation.org).