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Clark: We can and must do better for our veterans

Posted by Marcia Dick  November 11, 2011 10:05 AM

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This week we celebrate Veterans Day, a national day of honor for the brave men and women who have served our country in uniform.  On this day, we remember those who have lost their lives, and we recognize and thank those who have returned home.  Approximately 420,000 veterans currently reside in Massachusetts, and together they represent decades of service and sacrifice.  On Veterans Day we also acknowledge our military families, who have stood by our troops during and after their service and, in too many cases, have lost loved ones.  We share in their grief and honor their loss.

As a community, we share a responsibility to show our veterans and their families how much we value their service to us all.  Part of our commitment is making sure that all veterans, whether Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard, receive the benefits and services they deserve to transition back to life and work in Massachusetts.  This includes assisting veterans in obtaining health care, mental health and counseling services, housing support, childcare, and education, job training, and placement services so that they can find high-quality, 21st century jobs.  

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans who have served in the military over the past decade was 11.5 percent in 2010. In addition, it is estimated that on any given night, there are about 1,890 veterans experiencing homelessness right here in Massachusetts. As these alarming statistics make clear, we can and must do better by our veterans.

As a member on the Joint Committee of Veterans and Federal Affairs, I have had the opportunity to work with my colleagues to support and fund programs like “Train Vets to Treat Vets,” that trains returning veterans in mental health counseling so they can provide services to others.  I have also worked to ensure funding for North Shore Veterans Counseling Services. This outreach center delivers critical counseling and housing services to our local veterans.  In addition, earlier this year I filed a jobs bill that includes a veteran’s tax credit to provide incentives for employers to hire qualified veterans.

It’s clear that these efforts will take on additional urgency as more of our troops return home from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Approximately 37,000 Massachusetts residents have deployed around the world since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and there are about 11,000 Massachusetts residents currently deployed.  As they return, we must ensure that they receive the help and support they need, even in a challenging fiscal environment.  To that end, Governor Patrick has announced a series of new initiatives to better serve our veterans, including a bill to train and employ military veterans who qualify for state benefits.  I look forward to working with the Governor and others to get these programs in place as quickly as possible.

The past decade has been marked by war and conflict.  Indeed, my three sons have never known a country that is not at war.  Like so many of our sons and daughters, they have grown up in the shadow of conflict and have watched young people not much older than them head off to foreign lands to defend our freedom.

But that also means that our children have grown up with the opportunity to witness many brave and selfless acts of patriotism.  They have seen not only the loss of war, but the heroism as well.  On this Veterans Day, let’s recommit to our veterans that we will never forget their service and their sacrifice, and we will provide for our national heroes and their families.

Senator Clark represents Malden and Melrose. She may be reached at Katherine.Clark@masenate.gov.

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