Our veterans fight for our country overseas. They shouldn’t have to fight for a job when they come home.
It’s Veterans Day 2011, and the Great Recession continues. Just as in years past, American veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming home to a country that cannot provide them the basic dignity of having a job or a place to live. But this year something is different: They are marching for justice.
The status quo is grim. The unemployment rate among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is 12 percent, even higher than the unacceptable national average of 9 percent. In 2009, over 130,000 U.S. vets spent at least one night in a homeless shelter. Our veterans should be coming home to a country that honors and respects their sacrifice. Instead, our country’s largest banks, including JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, have been accused of overcharging them on their mortgages.
Now veterans across the country are joining the Occupy movement to protest economic inequality, denounce corporate greed, and demand jobs. Many of these brave heroes have also challenged law enforcement in their local communities for attacking unarmed civilians. But some of these veterans have also been attacked by police for exercising their own freedom of speech.
When Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran and Marine, demonstrated at an Occupy rally in Oakland, he was shot with a tear gas canister and sustained severe head injuries. In response, hundreds of veterans marched silently through lower Manhattan (from Vietnam Veterans Park to Zuccotti Park) to protest his mistreatment and show solidarity for the Occupy movement. Since then, another veteran has been hospitalized in Oakland, this time with a ruptured spleen from being beaten by the police. Despite this backlash, the Occupy Veterans movement is growing as men and women who have served in our armed forces continue their fight on behalf of American citizens and their constitutional rights.
Some progress has already been made. The Move Your Money campaign is taking money away from the multinational corporations that are putting our veterans out in the street and redirecting it to credit unions that will invest in our communities. A proposed Veterans Jobs Bill would provide tax breaks for companies that hire jobless veterans and veterans with service-oriented disabilities. But there is much more to be done. While we take today to honor veterans’ service, we must remember that we cannot tolerate a financial and economic system that leaves them broke, homeless, and in debt.
Reese Neader is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Policy Director.
The Roosevelt Institute is a non-profit organization devoted to carrying forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.