Ten years ago this week, the United States launched the invasion of Iraq. The nation remains divided on the wisdom, strategy and outcome of the war that claimed the lives of 4,488 U.S. service members and left more than 32,000 wounded.
But there is one certainty—the men and women who honorably fought and served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade have come home to an economy that works even less for them than it does others. Job loss, stagnant wages and a widening gap between working families and the wealthy and Wall Street are some of these problems.
They have come home to the toughest job market in decades. Even with the recent improvement in the economy and the jobless rate, veterans lag behind.
The U.S. unemployment rate in February was 7.7%, but for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the jobless rate was 9.4% last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that's an improvement. In recent years, it has been well into the double digits.
James Gilbert, director of the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council, says:
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have served with honor, courage and commitment that deserves our country's respect. Looking forward, we need to ensure that they have every opportunity to gain a secure job, quality health care and educational benefits that will afford them a successful future.
With high unemployment, a record number of suicides and an alarming rate of homelessness, the challenges veterans face are many and that is why we need elected leadership to take these issues more seriously. All the talking points, lapel pins and yellow ribbons in the world are not a substitute for real leadership and pragmatic solutions.
Jon Soltz, co-founder and chairman of the 220,000-plus supporter veterans group, VoteVets.org, wrote a piece for Huffington Post highlighting Iraq veterans' thoughts on the anniversary. Read those here.