By Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-District 49)
Every year on Veterans Day we, as a nation, honor those members of the armed forces who have put their lives on the line to defend the civil liberties we enjoy. These women and men have all made tremendous sacrifices in service to the ideals of this country; that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with the right to live in freedom and pursue their dreams.
There will be speeches, flyovers, and salutes. Then, on November 12, many Americans will wake up and resume their daily lives.
But for some American veterans, a return to daily life comes with challenges. The transition from military and civilian life can be jarring, and some veterans find it difficult to shift to a routine outside of the military. Many must accommodate serious health issues resulting from combat-related injuries, including PTSD. Even in today’s strong economy, too many veterans are having a tough time finding a job or securing affordable housing.
There are over 40,000 homeless veterans in the United States. 6,000 veterans die by suicide every year. These two alarming statistics are linked as veterans who have a history of homelessness are five times more likely to attempt suicide.
Over the years, countless studies and action plans have been created to address these issues, and much progress has been made. However, we still must do more to ensure the health and well-being of our country’s veterans.
Three states have effectively ended veteran homelessness within their borders—Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia. New Mexico’s policy leaders should study what has been done in those states and replicate some of their efforts here.
And each of us should do what we can to work with the veterans in our communities and understand their concerns. Are they able to find good-paying jobs? Do they have access to the transition programs and services offered by the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)? Can we help connect them to the resources they need to build happy and healthy homes for themselves and their families?
As a state representative, I have been proud to support many efforts to help protect and provide for New Mexico’s 150,000 plus veterans. Earlier this year, I supported passage of the New Mexico Stolen Valor Act, a new law to safeguard veterans’ benefits from those who would fake their service records to obtain special privileges earmarked for veterans.
I also worked with federal and state officials to approve construction of the new Fisher House in Albuquerque. The Fisher House will give the families of veterans and military service members a place to stay while their loved ones are receiving treatment at the Albuquerque VA hospital. The ribbon cutting for the new facility will take place on Friday, November 9.
While these actions will help make life better for many of New Mexico’s veterans, more work remains. We can do our part to thank our veterans by listening to them and supporting the programs and institutions they need to build successful lives after their military service has ended.
We shouldn’t wait for one day in November to pay tribute to our veterans. Every day should be Veterans Day.