This past Monday, the Robin Hood Foundation of New York City hosted a Veteran’s Summit aboard the USS Enterprise, moored in New York City. It was a fantastic event attended by hundreds of our Country’s most passionate advocates for veterans. The Summit featured a number of panels moderated by the likes of John Stewart from The Daily Show, Tom Brokaw (a fellow South Dakotan), Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Willy Geist, and Gayle King.
For me, the best panel was the short 15 minute discussion between Congressional Medal of Honor winner Salvatore Giunta and John Stewart. Mr. Giunta, now out of the Army, spoke about the struggle for veterans coming home to find a path they can follow, a place to fit in, and missing the camaraderie, trust, and closeness of the team most veterans had while in the service. Mr. Giunta is an incredibly humble, honorable, and well-spoken young man, you know, like most veterans. Take the time to watch this clip.
To quote from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) founder and executive director, Paul Rieckhoff, “This is a great conference, but it should have happened 10 years ago.” Paul’s right, we should have been working together at this level 10 years ago. Or even since the start of Vietnam. However, with the issue here in our lives I am thankful for Robin Hood to step up and put the summit together and move the issue in front of America
The biggest criticism I heard from other attendees was that the panelists seemed to be preaching to the choir. Leaders of the various movements working on veteran and war fighter issues were speaking to other members of the community. The message needs to be spread to those who are ignorant of the issues: our broader public as a country. Interestingly enough, the word resiliency was only mentioned throughout the day twice that I counted, and only once was the outdoors as a place for healing and reintegration brought up.
Again though, it was an incredible event and should generate momentum moving forward as we continue to struggle with, learn, and succeed in welcoming home our veterans and their families, from World War 2 through to the current wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.
For me, these were the main takeaways from the conference:
- Issues facing the veteran and veteran family community are rarely isolated to just the veteran community, but may be concentrated there. Figuring out how to create overwhelming success in the veteran community can help us figure out how to create overwhelming success throughout all of society.
- Our society needs to help create a new sense of positive mission, purpose, and service opportunities for our returning men and women and their families of the Armed Forces. We need to do this at the community and local level, with national support.
- Veterans are not ticking time bombs; the majority of veterans do not have issues with post-traumatic stress (PTS), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or a physical injury. However, that does not mean that all veterans are not changed when they come home or will not struggle with reintegration. Additionally, just because a veteran does have PTS, TBI, or a physical injury does not mean they cannot add significant value to the community they are in—in fact, most can and will given the opportunity.
- America is responding and responding in a big way to try and support veterans. There are over 40,000 non-profits who claim to serve veterans in their mission statements, plus hundreds of thousands of more that do serve veterans. However, many with good intentions may be doing more harm than good. We need to set standards of measurable excellence and allow those who meet those standards the lion’s share of funding to better focus the mission.
~Stacy Bare, OIF Veteran
Military Families and Veteran Representative to the Sierra Club
"Helping America's Military and Veteran Community experience the freedom of the land they defend"