I was a high school dropout, but the Army allowed me to get an education. I earned my GED so I could apply for Special Forces, and I was able to go to college and medical school on the GI Bill. Where else do high school dropouts get a chance like that to turn around their lives?
But even though I got the best of what the Army could offer, I know the transition from soldier to civilian isn’t an easy one.
Like most vets, I had trouble adjusting when I got home from Vietnam. And even though I was able to successfully transition to civilian life, some I served with are still fighting that war in their minds. Others need ongoing care from the Veterans Administration.
Everywhere I go throughout this state — from veterans town halls to community events — I’ve had the privilege to meet fellow veterans. Too often I hear about the lack of opportunities and difficulties for veterans. The unemployment rate for vets is significantly higher than the general population.
We’re seeing a horrifying spike in suicides among active-duty troops and the young vets recently home from war. And in far too many parts of our state, access to medical care is extremely limited.
Our soldiers have just fought the two most technologically lethal wars in history. But because the care they receive in the field is so good, we save a lot of these kids.
We have thousands of soldiers coming home today – some just 18 or 19 years old – who will need years of continuing physical and mental care. These young men and women are going to live another 50 or 60 years, and they have indisputably earned the right to a good quality of life.
The Veterans Administration provides excellent care, and Gen. Eric Shinseki is doing a phenomenal job leading the Veterans Affairs Administration. But there remains a backlog of 870,000 veterans waiting for care. And as I travel around rural Arizona, I’m hearing far too often that vets need to travel upwards of four hours to get the care they need.
I’m just as committed to getting our country’s debt under control and balancing the budget as anyone else. But if we’re not investing in making these young men and women whole and ensuring they get access to the same opportunities I got when I returned home from war, then we’ve lost sight of who we are and how this country treats those who serve.
And yet, we keep seeing career politicians cutting vets benefits. Congressman Jeff Flake has repeatedly voted in favor of billions of dollars in cuts to veterans, education, health and job training programs. Flake was also one of the few members of Congress to vote against the post-9/11 GI Bill.
These veterans programs aren’t entitlements or wasteful government spending. We made a contract with our vets that if they served, we would provide health care and educational opportunities. There is absolutely no way I will stand by while anyone tries to break that contract.
The GI Bill, the Veterans Administration, and the dozens of job training and other programs for vets have been some of the most successful initiatives ever taken by Congress. At a time when nearly a third of our young vets returning home from war are unemployed, we should be recommitting to these young men and women, not backing away.
A lot of the vets I’ve met with have expressed concerns about how our country is handling veterans’ issues. But every single man and woman also expressed pride in their service and gratitude at the opportunities it offered.
Like generations of other vets, I am enormously proud of my service and grateful for the education I got through the GI Bill. Every young vet today should get those same opportunities.
QC Independent Editor’s note: Dr. Carmona is a combatdecorated Special Forces veteran who served in Vietnam and went to college and medical school on the GI Bill. He became a trauma surgeon, deputy sheriff and the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. He is a candidate for the U.S. Senate for Arizona.