The Promise of the New Year For Military Veterans

February 12, 2016
By Mary Beth Bruggeman

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(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on The Huffington Post)

The holidays aren’t always pretty in my house. Take the stress and financial pressure that the season brings, and add the excitement of three small kids, holiday and class parties and more calories than is reasonable in a day, and you have a recipe for exhaustion.

But every year in December, I am inspired, like so many other Americans, to reflect on the joys and the successes of the year past and to set goals for the year to come.

In addition to pondering my own personal life – where I want to grow as a mother, a wife, a friend and a colleague this year – I also spent time thinking about what I hope my post-9/11 military veteran community will achieve in 2016. This is an exciting time to be a veteran, and I know that 2016 has limitless potential for us to make a difference in our nation and our communities. These are my wishes for my veteran community in the year ahead.

More Veterans in Political Office

Our Founding Fathers meant for our political system to be messy. The Constitution was written with intentional ambiguity, leaving room for interpretation, debate and purposeful conflict. It’s safe to say, though, that we’ve taken it to a whole new level: Our Congress has struggled to enact meaningful legislation over the last decade (the previous two Congresses were statistically the least productive in history). Our communities are gripped by epidemics of gun violence, racial tension and the threat of terrorism. Now more than ever, we need strong political leadership.

Today, less than 5 percent of our current Congress served in Iraq or Afghanistan, a staggering deficit in comparison to the 70 percent following World War II. And perhaps even more troubling when you consider that the decision to send our young men and women into harm’s way rests with those same legislators.

Veterans are leaders. We’re builders. We work well with others. And we progress and excel under pressure. We have practical experience making difficult moral and ethical decisions in the face of scrutiny and opposition. These are attributes that I believe the citizens of this country want in our politicians.

My hope for 2016 is that a record number of post-9/11 veterans will be elected to political office, and that they’ll bring with them that attitude and spirit of collaboration and “get the job done” mentality that they learned while serving on active duty.

More Women Veterans Coming into the Light

Women continue to join the Armed Forces at increasingly higher rates, producing correspondingly high numbers of women veterans. These women were willing to step up and serve their country during a time of war. They ate the same MREs, and fought the same wars. Yet, they have a disproportionately tough struggle with their reintegration into post-military life, and, in my opinion, they’re continuously seen as slightly “less than” their male counterparts.

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My hope for 2016 is that women veterans will continue to gain recognition for their accomplishments and their place in military history. I hope that we’ll go on to lead in our communities and to tell our stories, so that, when a female veteran 20 years from now is wearing a USMC T-shirt, the bulk of society won’t assume she is dressed that way to support her husband or father. We’re getting there, and I’m proud to be watching it unfold, but my hope is for progress.

We’re Not Here For Help, We’re Here TO Help

With 250,000 veterans transitioning off of active duty every year, our club is growing both in numbers and in strength. At the same time, our communities are suffering in countless ways. We have an unprecedented opportunity to make a lasting impact through civic action.

Veterans will benefit exponentially more from volunteering to serve their communities than they will from any number of free meals on Veteran’s Day. When our nation’s veterans leave active service, they have rightfully earned education benefits, medical care and the opportunity for gainful employment. But beyond these basic quality of life components, let us not forget the much less-tangible but no less-critical desire to feel needed once again, to join a tight-knit band of brothers and sisters united by purpose and committed to impact. We are not done serving, and we have more to give.

My hope for 2016 is that no veteran will remove their uniform for the last time without fanfare, support and recognition. And may they leave that network just to find another, even stronger network in their community – still supporting and defending the Constitution, but this time at home.

2016 will be a great year. Let’s get out there and rock it together.

Mary Beth Bruggeman, a Marine Corps veteran, is the executive director of the southeast region at The Mission Continues.

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