Tomorrow's editorial tonight:
Charlotte developer Tommy Norman served in the Special Forces for five years in the 1960s, so he’s no stranger to military service or the difficulties veterans can face as they transition back to civilian life. But it wasn’t until he hosted a couple of recent veterans and their families in his home that he really appreciated the scope of the problem.
The first was a Marine, with his wife and three kids, who had been in a parachute accident and lost a limb. Then came a helicopter pilot who “had the back of his head knocked off” and his wife, Norman said. Both families were struggling with various problems and were in search of community.
“It gave us a real sense of what they were up against. … It was a real learning curve for us,” Norman told the Observer editorial board. “They don’t have the community support until somebody makes the connection with them.”
So Norman was off. He started creating what on Wednesday was announced as the Charlotte Veterans Employment Initiative. Businesses, educators, nonprofits and others will collaborate to create a network of help for veterans shifting into civilian life, sometimes after years on the battlefield. Surprisingly, such an effort appears to be unique in the nation.
It’s an important, and well-timed, project. Organizers are bracing for an expected 4,000 or more veterans to move to Charlotte over the next year or so with the end of the Iraq war and the winding down of operations in Afghanistan. They’ll join 54,000 veterans already living in Mecklenburg County, including about 5,000 young ones.
They don’t identify themselves with signs, and so most of us don’t recognize them or think about the severe challenges they can face. They are even more invisible since today’s wars are fought by such a tiny percentage of the population.
They are a distinctive group because they carry such promise yet have endured so much and bear those scars. They find themselves trying to build a new life but have to overcome any number of complications: physical or psychological wounds, plus a lack of education, job skills, connections, housing and financial management experience. There are a range of government agencies and nonprofits to help them, but veterans can get lost trying to navigate them.
It’s no surprise, then, that they suffer higher rates of unemployment, homelessness and suicide than the general population. Some reports say veterans account for one in five suicides. The unemployment rate for veterans under age 25 is 30 percent, and 48 percent for African-American veterans of that age.
A nonprofit started last year, Charlotte Bridge Home, will help coordinate the initiative. CPCC will play a big role, and some of the city’s biggest corporate names have stepped up. Charlotte’s thousands of smaller businesses should also become a vital part.
Kudos to Norman and all the community leaders who are tackling this problem so far. These veterans have risked their lives on behalf of their country and many have witnessed unspeakable horror. They could use their talent to improve the Charlotte region, its businesses and all its institutions. The least we can do to honor their service is to reach out and give them a hand.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Tomorrow's editorial tonight: