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Ch Th al e M l by eng ent Ta es al m of He m V al y B et th ar era le n t s November 2021 Volume 55, No. 5

WHAT VETERANS DAY MEANS TO ME With essays by Dan Sullivan, Tony Gonzales, Chrissy Houlahan, & Van Taylor

Plus: Jerry Moran on strengthening the VA, Brad Wenstrup on equipping veterans for life after military service, and Mike Bost on dealing with toxic burn pits.

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“Ideas that matter, since 1965.“ Volume 55, Number 5

Politics & Perspective

Cover Story (cont’d.)



“There is no greater calling than service to country” By Chrissy Houlahan There is no greater calling than service to one’s nation. And if there’s one thing veterans understand, it is that service never stops.


“We remember and honor the sacrifices, both large and small.” By Van Taylor At one point in every veteran’s life, they made the tough decision to leave behind the comforts of home to fight for a cause bigger than themselves.


VA Update: Our Work for Veterans is Never Done By Jerry Moran Our country made a binding pact with our servicemembers. Upholding our end of the bargain is a moral obligation. Equipping Our Veterans for the Next Season of Service By Brad Wenstrup Too many of these servicemembers struggle to have their talents fully understood and utilized amidst transitioning back to civilian life.

7 Burn Pits Cannot be the Next Agent Orange By Mike Bost Otherwise-healthy veterans are suffering from uncommon cancers that may be result of exposure to open-air burn pits. The time for action is now. Cover Story - “What Veterans Day Means to Me” 11

“You kept us safe. You did your duty.” By Dan Sullivan Members of the United States military have done more to liberate humankind from oppression and tyranny ... than any other force in human history.

12 “We honor veterans’ service and sacrifice for this great nation.” By Tony Gonzales There is something incredibly unique about those who sacrifice so much to serve our country – who choose to run towards conflict in the name of freedom. Publisher The Ripon Society

Editor Lou Zickar

President Jim Conzelman

Deputy Editor Kyle Chance

Editorial Board Thomas Tauke Michael Castle Erik Paulsen Billy Pitts Pamela Sederholm Judy Van Rest Jim Murtha John Feehery

Advertising Coordinator Autumn Reed

© Copyright 2021 By The Ripon Society All Rights Reserved

Articles 18

The Mental Health Challenges of Veterans By Tammy Barlet Transitioning from active duty brings many challenges and mental health stressors.


How Veterans View the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan By Kim Parker Like the public, they are deeply divided along party lines.


We Said We’d Never Forget: Will We? By Joseph Reagan For the first time in 20 years, we celebrate Veterans Day in relative peace.

Sections 3 24

In this Edition By the Numbers - “Who are America’s Veterans?”

One Year Subscription: $40.00 individuals $15.00 students The Ripon Forum (ISSN 0035-5526) is published by The Ripon Society. The Ripon Society is located at 1155 15th Street, NW, Suite 550, Washington, DC 20005. Postmaster, send address changes to: The Ripon Forum, 1155 15th Street, NW, Suite 550, Washington, DC 20005.

RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021

Comments, opinion editorials and letters should be addressed to: The Ripon Forum, 1155 15th Street, NW, Suite 550, Washington, DC 20005 or may be transmitted electronically to: In publishing this magazine, The Ripon Society seeks to provide a forum for fresh ideas, well-researched proposals, and for a spirit of criticism, innovation, and independent thinking within the Republican Party.

THE RIPON SOCIETY HONORARY CONGRESSIONAL ADVISORY BOARD U.S. Senators: Shelley Moore Capito - Senate Co-Chair Todd Young – Senate Co-Chair Marsha Blackburn Roy Blunt Richard Burr Bill Cassidy, M.D. Susan M. Collins Steve Daines Joni Ernst Deb Fischer John Hoeven Jerry Moran Mike Rounds Thom Tillis Roger Wicker U.S. Representatives: Rodney Davis - House Co-Chair Jackie Walorski - House Co-Chair Darin LaHood - Vice Chair, Midwest Mike Kelly - Vice Chair, Northeast Dan Newhouse - Vice Chair, West Frank Lucas - Vice Chair, Southwest Ann Wagner - Vice Chair, South Mark Amodei Kelly Armstrong Don Bacon Troy Balderson Andy Barr Stephanie Bice Mike Bost Vern Buchanan Larry Bucshon, M.D. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. Ken Calvert Buddy Carter Tom Cole John Curtis Tom Emmer Ron Estes Brian Fitzpatrick Andrew Garbarino Anthony Gonzalez Kay Granger Garret Graves Sam Graves Jessica Herrerra Beutler French Hill Trey Hollingsworth Bill Huizenga Bill Johnson Dusty Johnson Dave Joyce John Joyce, M.D. John Katko Young Kim Adam Kinzinger Bob Latta Billy Long Nancy Mace Brian Mast Kevin McCarthy Michael McCaul Peter Meijer Carol Miller John Moolenaar Blake Moore Guy Reschenthaler Tom Rice Cathy McMorris Rodgers Steve Scalise Lloyd Smucker Pete Stauber Bryan Steil Glenn “GT” Thompson Mike Turner Fred Upton David Valadao Brad Wenstrup Steve Womack

In this edition

For the third year in a row, The Ripon Forum is dedicating an entire edition to the Veterans Day holiday and those brave men and women who risked their lives in defense of America. According to the Pew Research Center, there are around 19 million veterans as of this year. While that represents less than 10 percent of the total U.S. adult population, the fact remains that veterans are continuing to serve and work all around us. They are in the classroom -- more than 21,000 have become teachers since 1993. They are also entrepreneurs and own their own businesses. According to the Census Bureau, there are over 2.5 million veteran majority-owned businesses in the U.S., employing more than 5 million people. Veterans are also working to keep us healthy. Today in America, 5.5 percent of nurse practitioners once served in the military. Veterans also serve on Capitol Hill. In fact, when the 116th Congress convened earlier this year, 91 veterans took the oath of office as a member of the U.S. House or Senate. According to the Military Times, that is the fewest since the start of World War II. “The number of veterans in Congress has declined almost steadily since the mid-1970s,” the Times reports. “In 1973, nearly three in every four members of Congress had some type of military service. In 2021, it’ll be about one in every six members who have military experience.” However, the Times notes, there are signs that number could increase in the years ahead. “Of the 79 lawmakers elected to the 117th Congress who are aged 45 or younger,” the publication reports, “21 (about 27 percent) served in the military.” As we have in years past, the Forum reached out to both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who served in uniform and asked them to write an essay that answered a simple question – “What does Veterans Day mean to me?” Among other things, we asked them to share stories about their time in uniform and how they mark this important holiday each year. We also asked them to discuss any specific legislative initiatives they are working on that will not only be of assistance to America’s veterans, but be a fitting tribute to their service to America, as well. We are honored to feature essays in this regard from a bipartisan group of veteran lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, and U.S. Rep. Van Taylor. In addition to these essays, this Special Edition of the Forum also examines some of the key challenges facing veterans today. The Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, examines some of the steps that have been taken to strengthen the performance of the Department of Veterans Affairs and additional reforms that have to be made. U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup writes about life after military service and the effort he is leading to make sure veterans have the resources and training needed to transition to civilian life. And U.S. Rep. Mike Bost writes about the challenges posed by toxic burn pits and the importance of helping servicemembers who may have been exposed. Tammy Barlet of the Veterans of Foreign Wars writes a powerful piece about the mental health care challenges facing veterans and the importance of making sure they receive the care they need, while Kim Parker of the Pew Research Center examines recent survey data of veterans and how they view not only the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but other areas of U.S. foreign policy today. And Joseph Reagan of Wreaths Across America writes about Veterans Day and how, with American troops now out of Afghanistan, this will be the first holiday in two decades that will be celebrated in relative peace. As in years past, we hope this Special Edition of The Ripon Forum helps shine a light on the importance of America’s veterans. We honor their service, pay tribute to their sacrifice, and remain eternally grateful for the freedoms they helped defend and preserve. Lou Zickar Editor of The Ripon Forum RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021


Politics & Perspective

VA Update: Our Work for Veterans is Never Done by JERRY MORAN This Veterans Day as we honor, remember, and groundbreaking win for all veterans. I am committed pay respect to those who have served in our military, to ensuring the federal government puts veterans we should also reflect on what we have done and what first and prioritizes their decisions in health care more we can do to repay our American heroes for their instead of regressing to the days of long wait times service. Our country made a binding pact with our and burdensome commutes to distant VA facilities. servicemembers and veterans to ensure they receive Veterans deserve a system that provides them the care the care, support, and recognition earned through their and benefits they need where they are located. service. Upholding our end of the bargain is not only a In addition to the MISSION Act expanding health moral obligation, it also strengthens the faith our next care choice for veterans, the Asset and Infrastructure generation of heroes Review Commission was have in our country. established calling for an During the Trump independent review of Administration, I’m the VA’s infrastructure proud that Congress and and recommendations the White House were for how the VA can able to take substantial modernize to reflect steps forward to fulfill demographic changes in our obligations and the veteran population make certain veterans and update aging received the care they infrastructure ill-suited have earned. for modern medicine. We opened the The commission will doors to community care assess the more than through the MISSION 7,500 buildings the Act; we expanded VA owns, leases and and improved veteran operates. This will help education benefits with determine where future Veterans deserve a system the Forever GI Bill; we funds should be focused that provides them the care and overhauled the aging to update aging facilities benefits they need where they appeals process to and make renovations empower veterans with based on needs of the are located. options on how their local veteran population appeal was reviewed; and newly available and we granted the medical technology. VA greater authorities to discipline and dismiss bad As we work to continue improving the VA, it actors within the agency whenever they did not put the is important to address disparities in access and best interests of our veterans first. These wins were levels of care available to our veterans. Particularly significant, but the real test is ensuring the current in rural and underserved areas, veterans can easily administration effectively executes these laws. fall through the cracks due to unequal access or Since the MISSION Act was signed into law, varying quality of care. That is why I introduced the veterans’ perceptions of the VA have improved as Guaranteeing Healthcare Access to Personnel who more choose to utilize care through community Served Act, or “GHAPS Act.” The Senate Veterans’ providers in the towns and cities where they live and Affairs Committee has already taken the first step to work. This evolution of how the VA provides care is a pass this legislation out of committee. I look forward 4

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to passing this bill out of the Senate to help the VA saw the way they were treated when they came home, meet the unique needs of every veteran and make the disrespect that was thrown at them for answering certain veterans receive cutting-edge, high-quality, the call to serve their country, I decided that I would and timely care. spend the rest of my life honoring those in uniform. Even amid successes, I never thought I would be our work for veterans is a United States Senator, but never done. For too long since I have been in Congress There is no group of veterans affected by toxic I have served on the Veterans’ Americans I hold in higher Affairs Committee, and I am exposures while in the military have had to wait for regard than those who have determined to represent our care or come to Congress to nation’s veterans to the best of served and sacrificed. advocate for a change in law my ability because there is no to enable them to obtain the group of Americans I hold in care and benefits they need. higher regard than those who This patchwork system must end. Veterans deserve have served and sacrificed. This year, and every year, a transparent and reliable framework, supported by we thank those who have guaranteed our freedom. science, to identify and address the toxic wounds of God bless our veterans. RF war. While I am not a veteran, I watched as many of U.S. Senator Jerry Moran represents the great state of my high school peers left to serve in Vietnam, most of Kansas in the United States Senate and is the Ranking whom were only a year or two older than me. When I Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

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RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021


Equipping Our Veterans for the Next Season of Service by BRAD WENSTRUP Our veterans are valuable. The men and women whom I served alongside in Iraq This is just one step forward among many that need are some of the most skilled and experienced leaders I to be taken to empower veterans with the tools they have ever met. They have been tested under fire. They have need to effectively transition from serving our country enormous competency and capability to bring to the table -in uniform to contributing to our businesses, industries, to any table. and communities throughout their careers as civilians. For Yet when they come home, too many of these most veterans, there is no such thing as “life after service.” servicemembers struggle to have their talents fully understood Service is their life. It’s not just what they do. It’s part and utilized amidst transitioning back of who they are. Whether it’s on a to civilian life. I have seen it happen battlefield or volunteering in their many times. Going from a deep sense hometown, they are committed to of belonging and feeling essential leaving this country stronger, more to a mission, to fellow soldiers, to a peaceful, and more prosperous for the commander, or to a unit, to feeling less next generation. Our role is simply to essential in a civilian world can have a empower and equip them for a new deep mental and emotional impact. season of service as civilians. In reality, there’s no such thing as a On this Veterans Day, we are “non-essential” American. Everyone is deeply grateful to all of those who essential to themselves, their families, have stepped forward to serve this friends, and communities, and to our country out of love for what it stands society. Our veterans are no different. for and what they are protecting. Still, this feeling of disconnection That love doesn’t go away when or lack of purpose can be exacerbated they hang up their uniform for by the fact that too often, veterans are the last time. Neither should our viewed as cases to be “helped” instead of commitment to them. Our obligation, Too often, veterans powerhouses to be harnessed. This is not as a country and as communities, only a disservice to the men and women are viewed as cases to extends far beyond gratitude on this who have honed their skills while day or any day. It includes action. We be “helped” instead wearing the uniform of this nation, it’s are free because of their courage and of powerhouses to be also a disservice to our economy and our competency. As long as I remain in country who can greatly benefit across Congress, I will continue working harnessed. sectors from their knowledge, expertise, to ensure that these men and women and leadership experience. are equipped with the tools they need We need to do better by our warfighters. We’ve made to effectively serve our country both in uniform and long great strides in improving veteran care by cutting through after. RF red tape with strong, bipartisan laws, like the VA MISSION Act. Now, we must continue better supporting our veterans Brad Wenstrup, D.P.M., represents the 2nd district of in their next seasons by connecting them with the right Ohio in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is an Iraq employment and education opportunities. We can do this by War veteran, having deployed in 2005 - 2006 with the aligning transition, education, and employment programs in US Army’s 344th Combat Support Hospital, Task Force a “Fourth Administration” within the VA to help streamline 344, to Abu Ghraib, Iraq, where he served as the Chief organization and better serve those who served us in uniform. of Surgery, and the Director of Wound Care. He was I am proud to lead a bipartisan, bicameral effort to accomplish awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Action Badge, and this by introducing H.R. 2494, the Veterans’ Education, many campaign medals for his service to our country. In Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan (VET OPP) 2018, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for his heroism Act of 2021. during the 2017 congressional baseball shooting. 6

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Burn Pits Cannot be the Next Agent Orange by MIKE BOST “Every day I wonder, ‘Is today the day that toxic esty wreak havoc on veterans of Iraq and Afghaniexposure catches up with me?’” Navy veteran James stan. Yet the VA estimates that half of all claims for L. Price said as he closed out his testimony before the compensation related to burn pit exposure are denied. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in May. Toxic exposure hits close to home for me, not just Lauren Price, Jim’s late wife, was a dedicated as the Republican leader on the House Veterans’ Afsailor and advocate for “her all,” as she so graciously fairs Committee and a veteran myself, but also as the referred to her brothers and sisters in arms. At the father and grandfather of two active-duty Marines. age of 56, Lauren lost her life I don’t want any servicemember to cancer in March 2021, just 44 or veteran – particularly not one days after she was diagnosed. who is sick – to have to fight for I was honored to invite Jim to the benefits they have earned or speak about Lauren and about wait decades for science to catch his own veteran experience. I up to their reality. That’s why, will carry the Price family in my two days before Lauren’s passheart for the rest of my life, but ing, I introduced the bipartisan, the fact is that stories like theirs bicameral Toxic Exposures in are all too common. the American Military (TEAM) Hundreds of thousands of Act. veterans who, like Lauren, are The TEAM Act would make otherwise healthy and in the it easier for toxic-exposed vetprime of their lives are suffererans to enroll in the VA health ing from uncommon cancers: care system and file for VA benleukemia, Parkinson’s disease, efits. It would also improve vision loss, and more, followtraining for VA staff in how to ing their time in uniform. They identify and treat toxic exposure believe those diagnoses are a and, perhaps most importantly, I don’t want any result of exposure to dangerous require further research into servicemember or chemicals from open-air burn toxic exposure to ensure that scipits, particulate matter, perence keeps pace with the needs veteran – particularly and polyfluoroalkyl substances of toxic-exposed servicememnot one who is sick – (PFAS), or other toxins while bers and veterans. The TEAM to have to fight for serving. However, because it Act would do right by these men can take years, if ever, for sciand women today and tomorrow the benefits they have ence to conclusively prove that a by delivering the services they earned or wait decades diagnosis or disability is caused need now and ensuring that fufor science to catch up by an exposure, these veterans ture decisions regarding their often can’t get the support they care and benefits are made by to their reality. need from the VA. In some casscientists, not politicians. es, that proof is impossible to Many aspects of the TEAM attain due to the nature of the exposure or how long Act are included in the toxic exposure omnibus bills it has been since it occurred. That is what prevented advanced by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Afsome Vietnam-era veterans from receiving benefits fairs in May and, along a party-line vote, by the House for Agent Orange exposure until decades after their Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in June. But it’s now service. Congress finally delivered benefits to Blue Veterans Day and we are no closer to delivering the Water Navy Vietnam veterans in 2019, 44 years after support that toxic-exposed veterans need than we the Vietnam War ended. We cannot let the same trav- were when Jim testified before Memorial Day. That RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021


is a shame on the Democrat-controlled Congress and why policymakers from both sides of the aisle and the Biden Administration, who are apparently more the Administration must get together to find a biparfocused on their trillion-dollar spending sprees than tisan, fiscally-responsible, and scientifically-sound on caring for the men and women who safeguarded solution that can be paid for and that can pass the our democracy in the first place. House and the Senate and be signed into law. I have Enacting meaningful legislation for toxic-ex- been calling on my Democratic colleagues to do that posed veterans will be for months. The time for costly and complicated. action is now, in honor Preliminary estimates of toxic-exposed veterPolicymakers from both from the VA indicate that ans like Jim, like Lauren, sides of the aisle and the it could cost several hunand the thousands more dred billion dollars to that are leaving us far too Administration must get extend health care and soon every day. RF together to find a bipartisan, compensation benefits fiscally-responsible, and to toxic-exposed veterMike Bost represents the ans. Those costs could 12th district of Illinois in scientifically-sound solution. be driven even higher if the U.S. House of RepreCongressional Democrats sentatives where he serves succeed in staying well ahead of science by estab- as the Ranking Member on the Committee on Veterans’ lishing a laundry list of diagnoses that would be Affairs. Congressman Bost served in the U.S. Marine eligible for automatic compensation, absent any evi- Corps from 1979 to 1982 where he was trained as an dence to attempt to tie them to toxic exposure. That’s electronic specialist and radar repairman.

U.S. Army soldiers watch garbage burn in a burn-pit at Forward Operating Base Azzizulah in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, in February 2013.


RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021

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WHAT VETERANS DAY MEANS TO ME With essays by Dan Sullivan, Tony Gonzales, Chrissy Houlahan, & Van Taylor


RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021


“You kept us safe. You did your duty.” by DAN SULLIVAN

This upcoming Veterans Day, like I have done nearly every has historically denied them equal rights. I call it a special kind year since I’ve been in office, I will go home to Alaska, a state of patriotism. with more veterans per capita than any other. I’ll likely go to Members of the Harley-driving Roaring Thunder, a group Wasilla, a town in a valley about 45 minutes from my house committed to helping American veterans, will be at the service in Anchorage. Like so many towns in Alaska, there’s a Wall of in Wasilla. Many of the members of the Roaring Thunder are Honor there, a tribute to our fallen heroes, where we will gather. Vietnam veterans, and many of them were treated with contempt It’s also not far from a mountain, the recently-named Gold Star by their fellow Americans at the time. Peak—named for the men and women who made the ultimate However, instead of being wracked and incapacitated by sacrifice for our freedoms. bitterness and anger over the way they Retired Army Sergeant Kirk were treated when they came home, Alkire spent years working with state our Vietnam veterans set out to make and federal agencies to officially sure that future veterans of America’s name the mountain “Gold Star Peak.” wars and their fallen comrades would Serving with the Alaska-based 4th receive better treatment than they did. Infantry Brigade Combat Team of The crowd will also include those the 25th Infantry Division, Kirk’s who served in Afghanistan, some of brigade lost 53 paratroopers during a whom—as well as their families— 15-month deployment to Iraq. To this will no doubt still be feeling despair day, he carries around dog tags with over the bungled withdrawal. each of their names. To them, I’ll repeat what I’ve been Kirk will probably be there, as saying to so many who I have talked will hundreds of Alaska veterans, to since August: “You kept us safe. You those still serving, and family did your duty.” I will tell the family members who have lost someone. We members who have lost loved ones that will all gather to pay tribute to them their sacrifice was not in vain. Each life because we know about the sacrifices that is lost is a vital piece of the mosaic that so many have made for our that is our military—one of the most freedoms. We know that the families positive forces in human history. Members of the United of those in uniform are also serving. I will tell the crowd that, States military have One of the most satisfying and throughout history and into the moving things that I have seen while present, members of the United done more to liberate serving as Alaska’s U.S. senator is States military have done more to humankind from how much Alaska’s communities all liberate humankind from oppression oppression and tyranny… and tyranny—literally hundreds of over the state support our military and our veterans. It is a special and unique millions of people—than any other than any other force in aspect of who we are as Alaskans, as if force in human history. human history. embedded in our DNA. And this is not When the Pledge of Allegiance just a recent phenomenon. In 1942, has been recited, and the speeches are during World War II, Alaskans oversubscribed their war-bond over, the Roaring Thunder will fire up their Harley Davidsons quota by nearly 300 percent, surpassing every state in the Union. and rev their engines. The roar will spread throughout the valley. Today, this patriotism and support of our military is on full It will sound like freedom. It will sound like Veterans Day. display in our larger communities, and in villages that dot my Semper Fi. RF state. In Hoonah, Alaska, it’s documented in the film “Hunting and Wartime.” Almost every single male high school senior Dan Sullivan represents the state of Alaska in the U.S. Senate in the village went to fight and serve in Vietnam. Indeed, the where he sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Alaska Native people serve in the military at a higher rate than the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. He is currently a any other ethnic group in the country, even though the country Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves. RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021



“We honor veterans’ service and sacrifice for this great nation.” by TONY GONZALES

Veterans Day is a day to remember our veterans, past and present, uphold. I continue to be past and present, for their service to this country. I influenced every day by my fellow veterans around was 20 years old when planes struck the Twin Towers me, including my wife, Angel. Angel served eight in September of 2001. Only weeks after 9/11, I landed years in the Air Force and now is a commissioned in Afghanistan. At that time, I couldn’t even point officer in the Naval Reserves. She represents one of out Afghanistan on the strongest groups the map, and now I within our veteran had the opportunity community – our female to see the world for veterans. Women within the first time. I went our military face their on to serve several own set of unique tours in Afghanistan, challenges, both in the Iraq, and Asia. After field and at home, and two decades, I retired yet serve at the same as Master Chief Petty caliber as our men in Officer. The same uniform. young man who Every year on enlisted without a high November 11, we school degree, or even honor veterans’ service knowing how to swim, and sacrifice for this retired at the highest great nation. There is enlisted rank within something incredibly the Navy. unique about those who Growing up, my sacrifice so much to Senior Chief Phil Heilman presents Cryptologic grandfather, Jesus serve our country – who Technician (CTR1) Tony Gonzales with the Aircrewman Antonio Pena, was my choose to run towards of the Year Award in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in 2004. hero. He only had an conflict in the name of 8th grade education freedom. On Veterans but went on to serve Day, I take this day to in World War II. He spend time with my This day serves as a reminder for shared stories with me fellow veterans and the unwavering support system I about how the Army remember those who have with those who served taught him bravery are no longer with us. and camaraderie. I was This day also serves with me. only a credit shy of as a reminder for the graduating high school unwavering support when he passed away. system I have with I was completely devastated, which persuaded me to those who served with me. The bond that you get with make the decision to drop out and enlist in the Navy the people you serve alongside can never be replaced. at 18. I work to foster this same sense of camaraderie My grandfather emblemized my first understanding as every day in Congress to devise real solutions for the to what our military sacrifices, the importance of our American people. I believe having veterans both in veterans, and the characteristics our servicemembers, office and as staff is incredibly important. When it 12

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comes to matters that affect our military, veterans $22 million for a new Child Development Center at and national security, there are some things you can’t Lackland Air Force Base and $150 million for a new learn in a book – you have to live it. Veterans Health Care Center in El Paso. That’s why I believe it is critical for me to I want to thank every brave man and woman that provide insight from my experiences to help further has served our country selflessly so that we can live meaningful legislation. free. I encourage everyone I use my seat on the to take a moment to thank House Appropriations a veteran they may know The bond that you get with the Subcommittee for today and every day. RF people you serve alongside can Military Construction never be replaced. and Veterans Affairs Tony Gonzales represents to advocate for federal the 23rd district of Texas funding to be responsibly in the U.S. House of allocated towards the VA and ensure our veterans Representatives where he serves on the Committee receive the care they earned. Within my district on Veterans’ Affairs. Congressman Gonzales served specifically, I secured $1 million in funding for the in the U.S. Navy from 1999 to 2019 where he was a Del Rio Tiny Homes for Veterans Project, to construct cryptologist and rose to the rank of Master Chief Petty and maintain temporary homes for veterans currently Officer. He also served several tours in Afghanistan, suffering from homelessness. I also was able to secure Iraq, and Asia.

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“There is no greater calling than service to country” by CHRISSY HOULAHAN

Over 11,000 members have roamed the storied history. halls of the United States House of Representatives, Like many kids in military families, I moved but fewer than 10 have been female veterans. As one a dozen times before finishing high school. of those female veterans, I feel an enormous honor But through it all, I felt the call to serve too. I and responsibility to be a attended Stanford on a strong voice for all veterans, ROTC scholarship to study but especially for the fastest Industrial Engineering growing demographic of and went on to serve three veterans – women. For many of years on active duty at us, Veterans Day is profoundly Hanscom Air Force Base meaningful and as our nation in Massachusetts, working evolves and grows, so does our on air and space defense veteran community. Despite technologies. After 13 years our country’s changes and in the Air Force Reserves, challenges, our commitment I hung up my uniform, but to our nation’s values is the I was not done with my constant that unifies us. This service to country. year, we must renew our calls I tell this story because for a nation rooted in service to the thread of service is others. often woven through For me, the call to serve our generations of families. nation began many years ago. When I think of Veterans It’s not an exaggeration to say Day, I think first of my dad Future Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan my earliest memories are of the and grandfather (and my with her parents. military – I was born on base, mom and grandmother), at my father’s duty station, NAS and then my many friends Pax River, on the Patuxent River and family members When I think of Veterans in Maryland. serving on active duty right My father, Andrew “Andy” now. Now, as a Member of Day, I think first of my dad Jampoler, was born in war torn Congress, I also think of and grandfather (and my Poland to Jewish parents in the countless veterans I’ve mom and grandmother), and met and spoken to in our 1942. He was hidden in plain sight with a Christian family as community. Their stories then my many friends and a “Hidden Child.” Immediately inspire my work down in family members serving on after the war, he came to Washington every day. active duty right now. America with his young mother. Especially this time of year, They were refugees. As a young I’m reminded that there is man, he joined the Navy where no greater calling than he would serve for more than 30 years as a naval service to one’s nation. aviator, including a year in Vietnam. In fact, my parents And if there’s one thing veterans understand, it met when my father and grandfather flew P-3s together is that service never stops. in the same Navy squadron. Eventually, the ‘skipper’s When I was elected to Congress, I felt it was daughter’ caught my dad’s eye. And, well, the rest is a continuation of my service to the country that 14

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decades ago welcomed my dad as a refugee and gave with – community organizations that provide lifesaving us both the educational opportunities to grow and services to local veterans. succeed. In joining Congress, it was again my turn to The threats to our nation are constantly shifting, give back in a new way, and I knew I could be a strong and to meet these threats effectively, our armed forces advocate for our veterans. must represent the best and brightest of our country, As a Member of Congress, I helped found and regardless of gender. That’s why I introduced a lead the bipartisan For Country Caucus, a powerful bipartisan measure to modernize the selective service voice to shepherd veterans’ issues through the House. system to ensure both women and men are registered Recently, we visited Quantico, VA to ensure our Afghan and poised to protect and defend our nation if ever allies who helped us abroad called to serve during an were getting the resources emergency. they needed once they safely Right here in Pennsylvania, arrived in the United States. the birthplace of our I also co-founded and democracy, we have a strong co-chair the Servicewomen and multi-faceted history of and Women Veterans Caucus, service. Like those who came which brings members of before us, it is now our solemn both parties together to duty and responsibility to address issues facing our continue to answer this call. I servicewomen and women am a proud veteran, and I want veterans. As co-chair, I veterans and their friends and led an effort to oppose the families to know that on behalf elimination or restructuring of a grateful nation, I thank of the Defense Advisory you for your service. RF Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). Chrissy Houlahan represents In September, we received the 6th District of Pennsylvania notification that DACOWITS in the U.S. House of Now, as a Member of would resume operations Representative. She earned to fulfill the essential work her engineering degree from Congress, I also think of it has done for decades for Stanford with an ROTC the countless veterans I’ve women in service. scholarship that launched her met and spoken to in our As a strong advocate service in the U.S. Air Force. of improving mental health After graduating from Stanford, community. Their stories services for servicemembers Chrissy spent three years on Air inspire my work down in and veterans, I was thrilled Force active duty at Hanscom Washington every day. that in 2020 my IMPROVE Air Force Base working on air Act was signed into law. This and space defense technologies. bill authorizes the VA to take She left active duty in 1991 and a new, effective approach in fighting the veterans served in the Air Force Reserves before separating from suicide crisis by making grants to – and coordinating the service in 2004 as a captain.

“Ideas that matter, since 1965.“

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RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021



“We remember and honor the sacrifices, both large and small.” by VAN TAYLOR

The veterans who forged the greatest nation on earth stood country in war. ready to secure our individual rights and liberties no matter the As we commemorate this Veterans Day in the wake cost. With an unwavering faith, our founders created the land of the twentieth anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks of the free and we have led the fight against tyranny throughout on September 11, 2001, Global War on Terror veterans and history. From battling Spanish Imperialism to liberating their families still do not have a place on the National Mall concentration camps in Nazi Germany, the United States Armed to remember their time of service. Further, a grateful nation Forces confronted and successfully defeated totalitarianism. does not have a national tribute to honor and recognize the At one point in every veteran’s sacrifices of our heroes in the War life, they made the tough decision to on Terror. I’m proud to join my leave behind the comforts of home to colleagues in the bipartisan For fight for a cause bigger than themselves. Country Caucus, which is comprised Whether it is missing the birth of a child, of principled military veterans or a best friend’s wedding, to the small serving in Congress, to push for the things many of us take for granted like Global War on Terrorism Memorial picking your kids up from school or Location Act. This important sitting around the dinner table with your legislation would authorize the family – our veterans knew they would creation of the Global War on Terror never get these moments back and Memorial on the National Mall to chose to serve regardless. honor the millions of Americans Every Veterans Day, we remember who have served in the U.S. Armed and honor the sacrifices, both large and Forces since September 11th. small, made by those who valiantly I look forward to continuing served in our nation’s armed forces and to work in Congress to support their loved ones. I proudly represent our nation’s veterans and hope Captain Van Taylor in Nasiriyah, Texas’ Third Congressional District, you will join me this Veterans Day Iraq, in March of 2003. which is home to an outstanding in thanking those who understand community of veterans who gather service before self is more than every Veterans Day. Whether its just a creed, but a way of life. May breakfast at the Sam Johnson Memorial God bless our troops and their We remember and honor Center or a ceremony in a neighborhood families. RF the sacrifices, both large park, the importance of annual Veteran’s and small, made by those Van Taylor has represented Texas’ Day events cannot be overstated. Many Americans commemorate 3rd district since 2019. Taylor who valiantly served in this revered day by making a pilgrimage our nation’s armed forces served in the U.S. Marine Corps and to one of our nation’s famous war attended The Basic School, Infantry and their loved ones. memorials on the National Mall. In fact, Officer Course, and graduated first the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in his class from Sniper Employment is seen globally as place for Americans Officer Course. He completed to gather and observe our sacred war memorials. It is common Intelligence School as the Marine Honor Graduate and to witness veterans and their families tucking flowers into names commanded First Marine Regiment’s Reconnaissance etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or hear veterans share Platoon in Camp Pendleton, CA. After completing that their stories at the World War II Memorial. These memorials are assignment, he served as an intelligence officer for an much more than just a location showcasing words in stone, they artillery battalion. Taylor later joined the U.S. Marine Corps provide a way for veterans, servicemembers, and their families Reserve, where he was deployed to Iraq where he fought with to reflect and heal from the shared experiences of fighting for our 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company. 16

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More Needs to Be Done to Meet the Mental Health Challenges Facing Veterans by TAMMY BARLET My mental health was not high on my to-do list as I shortly after their transition. Over the past 10 years, transitioned from the Coast Guard to civilian life. Extending the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) increased my eight-year service contract by eight months to complete a upstream mental health programs to address suicide medical board only deepened my depression. This extension prevention. The VA expanded mental health services to kept me in Houston far from my family support system while meet veterans’ mental health needs even if they are not adjusting to life with my new physical injuries. I was alone, enrolled in VHA. The VA Mission Act of 2018 allows I was hurt, and I worried about what my new future would providers to deliver care via telemedical systems to look like. For many transitioning veterans across state lines. veterans, this remains the case. Although access has increased, More than 500 active duty staff shortages still remain. service members transition to Psychiatry is the most common veteran status every day. Moving a severe clinical shortage in family, finding housing, searching 60 percent of VA facilities, for employment, starting school, according to a 2020 Office of all while going through the Inspector General report. complicated process of filing a For 42 years, Vet Department of Veterans Affairs Centers have been VA’s (VA) disability compensation unheralded program. Vet claim, usually takes precedence Centers offer various services, over treatment for depression, including individual and anxiety, PTSD, or MST. This family counseling, benefits delicate time of leaving the explanation, substance abuse routine, structure, and purpose the assessment and referral, and military provides while looking many others. There are over to new beginnings and unknowns 300 centers, 83 mobile units, can be a whirlwind of emotions and several outstations and Tammy Barlet for these new veterans as they community access points to work to successfully navigate serve eligible veterans and their their next life chapter. families, and yet, not many Transitioning from Recently, the VA created veterans know they exist nor do programs like Solid Start to active duty service member they know who may be eligible address a gap in assisting veterans for service. Vet Centers operate to veteran bring many as they transition back to civilian without a proper staffing challenges and mental life. This program reaches out to model to provide service for newly separated service members an increasingly eligible group health stressors. three times during their first year of veterans and their families. of separation to connect them with Evaluating and understanding VA resources. Within the first year of this program, the VA who uses Vet Centers and why will help to coordinate contacted 60 percent of active duty members who separated adequate staffing, resources, and funding. in 2020. Sixty percent is a good start, but, according to the Transitioning from active duty service member VA’s 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual to veteran brings many challenges and mental health Report, veterans between the ages of 18-34 continue to have stressors. Therefore, these individuals are at a higher risk the highest unadjusted suicide rate. Therefore, more must be of suicide the first 12 months after separation and may done. require increased access to services. Expanding mental Removing the barrier to access allows veterans the health access to both VHA and Vet Centers further opportunity to receive mental health services from the VA reduces the barriers to care. While these programs 18

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slowlySUICIDE movingPREVENTION the needle, ANNUAL they miss the mark on physical. NATIONAL are VETERAN REPORT | SEPTEMBER 2021 Therefore, by including VBA data in the annual

considering other aspects of a veteran’s life that may lead report, the VA will have a more complete picture of the to crisis. impact of its programs on reducing the rate of suicide. As new legislation becomes law, new grants are The VA’s top priority is the health and well-being of our given, and new programs are established, there remains nation’s veterans. If the VA is serious about understanding a vast amount of unexplored VA data that can help and preventing suicide, then we must demand a more better identify and understand thorough evaluation of all VA the underlying causes of veteran programs. Congress needs to suicide. Every year since 2014, direct the VA to include relevant Therefore, these the VA has published the National VBA data in the annual report on individuals are at a higher all VA programs Veteran and Suicide Prevention impact as The number rate of suicide deaths rose from 2001 to 2018 across the U.S. population. Yet theand U.S.their population, risk of suicide the first 12 Annual Report. This report on veteran suicide. Much more well as the Veteran population, experienced a decrease in the suicide count and rate from 2018 to 2019. Furthermore, in contains information from two needs to be done to reduce the months after separation retrospect and on with updated yearofahead of the U.S. population years prior veterans whodata, diedthe Veteran suicide count decreased in 2018—one number veteran suicides to and may require increased suicide decrease, as Figures 1 and 3 illustrate. This section provides an overview of Veteran data within the context of U.S. by suicide and their interaction zero. RF to services. with data the VHA. The current annual Deaths by access national organized by Suicide Count/Number, Suicide Average Per Day, and Suicide Rates. report excludes other veterans’ Tammy Barlet, MPH, is Deputy benefits programs from the Director of the National Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). VBA programs Legislative Service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars such as the GI Bill, disability compensation, or home of the United States. It is her responsibility to analyze loan guarantee lead to workforce skillU.S. attainment, steady and consult with Congress on issues related women The number (count) of suicides among adults increased from 29,580 in 2001 to 45,861 in 2019 (see to Figure 1). Veterans income, and stable housing, which are social determinants veterans and health care. She served eight years in the accounted forImprovements 5,989 suicidestoinsocial 2001,determinants which represented of suicides among U.S. as adults in 2001; and 6,261 suicides of health. of health20.2% United States Coast Guard an Operation Specialist in 2019, which, by comparison, represented 13.7% of suicides among U.S. adults in 2019. Veterans ages 55-74 were the positively impact health outcomes, both mental and Third Class Petty Officer between 1995-2003.

Suicide Among U.S. Adults and Among Veterans, 2001–2019

Suicide Deaths by Count/Number

largest population subgroup; they accounted for 38.6% of Veteran suicide deaths in 2019.

Figure 1: Suicide Deaths, by Year, 2001–2019 50,000 45,000


40,000 35,000


30,000 25,000 20,000 15,000 10,000



5,000 0

2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019

Source -- 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report

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How Veterans View the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Like the public, they are deeply divided along party lines by KIM PARKER less supportive of the decision to pull troops out of the In the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from country and more critical of the Biden administration’s Afghanistan, Pew Research Center looked at how military approach than Democrats and Democratic leaners. veterans were feeling about the decision to pull all troops out In fact, most of the strong criticism of the Biden of that country, how they assessed Joe Biden’s handling of administration in the survey came from Republicans, with the situation, and how they felt more broadly about Biden’s 91% of Republican veterans and 81% of Republicans approach to foreign policy. who didn’t serve in the military saying his administration What we found was that veterans’ views on the decision had done a poor job handling the to withdraw troops and their assessment situation in Afghanistan. of the overall success or failure of the The overall differences in U.S. mission in Afghanistan were not views between veterans and nonmarkedly different from the views veterans are partially a reflection of of those who have not served in the the partisan leanings of the veteran military. In a survey conducted Aug. population. Previous Pew Research 23-29, 2021 (before all American Center studies of veterans have troops had left Afghanistan), 52% of found that, as a group, they are more military veterans said the U.S. decision likely than non-veterans to align to withdraw troops was the right one, themselves with the Republican while 47% said it was wrong. The Party. And veterans who identify as balance of opinion was roughly similar Republican or lean to the GOP were among adults who have not served in the more than five times as likely as military, with 54% saying it was the right Democratic or Democratic-leaning decision to withdraw troops and 42% veterans in our survey to give the saying it was the wrong decision. In that Biden administration a poor rating same survey, solid majorities of veterans Kim Parker for the job it’s done in Afghanistan. (67%) and non-veterans (69%) said the Looking more broadly at views U.S. mostly failed in achieving its goals of Biden’s handling of foreign in Afghanistan. Six-in-ten policy and military affairs, there A second survey conducted in veterans said the are significant gaps in the opinions September took a closer look at views of Biden’s leadership on these issues. Here Biden administration of veterans and non-veterans, mainly at the extremes. Roughly veterans were significantly more critical had done a poor half of veterans said they have no than non-veterans, though both groups job handling the confidence at all in Biden’s ability were mostly critical of Biden. Six-in-ten to make good decisions about veterans said the Biden administration situation in foreign policy or in his ability to had done a poor job handling the Afghanistan. use military force wisely. In each situation in Afghanistan. This compared case, only a third of non-veterans with 47% of non-veterans. Some 16% of expressed the same view. veterans said Biden had done a fair job in this area, as did Partisanship is strongly linked to these views as well, 27% of non-veterans. Only a quarter or fewer in either group with Republicans much more critical than Democrats of said the administration had done an excellent or good job. Biden’s abilities. But even among Republicans, veterans Views on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and stood out in their criticism of the President’s ability to Biden’s handling of the situation differed widely by partisan make the right decisions in these areas. Eight-in-ten identification – both among veterans and non-veterans. Republican veterans said they are not at all confident in Republicans and Republican-leaning independents were 20

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Biden when it comes to making the right decisions about foreign policy and the use of military force. These party dynamics also came into play in veterans’ assessments of Donald Trump – but with the opposite effect. A May 2019 Pew Research Center survey found veterans were more approving than the public at large of the way Trump was handling his job as commander-in-chief of the military (57% of veterans approved vs. 41% of all adults). Among Republicans, 92% of veterans approved of the way Trump was handling this aspect of his job, higher than the share of all Republicans (81%). Among Democrats, only 6% of veterans and 8% of all adults approved of the job Trump was doing as commander-in-chief.

Pew Research Center’s data is a valuable tool in helping understand veterans’ views on issues to which they bring a unique perspective. What our research has shown is that veterans are not immune from the party divides that so define our political lives these days. This extends not only to their attitudes about the Afghanistan withdrawal and even the war in Iraq, but also to their view of future threats. Roughly two-thirds of GOP veterans – but only one-infour of their Democratic brethren – say Taliban control of Afghanistan poses a major threat to U.S. security. RF Kim Parker is director of social trends research at Pew Research Center.

Six-in-ten veterans say the Biden administration has done a poor job in Afghanistan; most of the criticism comes from Republican and GOP-leaning veterans % saying the Biden administration has done a ___ job handling the situation in Afghanistan Poor

Only fair


Net 76 All veterans




19 4 19 5 Net 4

5 4 <1



12 4 1

81 Net 51

Among Dem/Lean Dem



Net 95

Among Rep/Lean Rep


Net 22


All non-veterans


16 20

35 39

Net 49 9

40 32


Note: Share of respondents who didn’t offer an answer not shown. Figures may not add to subtotals due to rounding. Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted Sept. 13-19, 2021. PEW RESEARCH CENTER

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We Said We’d Never Forget: Will We?

For the first time in 20 years, we celebrate Veterans Day in relative peace. by JOSEPH REAGAN On November 11, 1918, Ralph Lindsey wrote from his is just one of the many, many cringeworthy stories demonstrating hospital bed in France “Armistice signed at 11 o’clock. Grand the real-life challenges of this civil-military divide. This divide is celebration all over France. War is at last over and I am still alive!” even more pronounced in Congress where in the 1970s, nearly Later in life if you asked him about the scars on his chest he would 80 percent of the members of Congress had served in the U.S. simply respond with a shrug and say, “I zigged when I should military; today, less than 20 percent of the 117th Congress have have zagged.” Ralph was my great grandfather, and now, nearly ever worn a uniform. When my great grandfather, and grandfather 103 years after he wrote those words our nation once again finds returned from World War I and World War II, respectively, they ourselves celebrating the contributions of our veterans during a entered a job market that was saturated with fellow Veterans, who period where their sacrifices may be less visible than they have understood them and the value they bring to our communities, as did our elected representatives. A congressional study in the late during the past 20 years of war. After returning from World War I, like many others from 80’s looked at the return on investment on veterans programs (e.g., his unit, he found tremendous success. He took over the family the GI Bill) found that for every dollar spent on veterans’ benefits, business, and raised a family. His friends H.A. Durkee and Fred nearly $7 came back to the community through some form of Mower, both former Infantrymen, started a small company based economic output. Having worked with numerous Veterans’ on a unique marshmallow confection. Another from his unit, groups since leaving active duty I can tell you, this figure is an Walter Brennan, is one of only three men to win three Academy understatement. The truth about our veterans since the end of the draft in Awards, his distinct voice the result of the same gas attack that wounded my great grandfather. Take a moment to look at the 70’s has become increasingly diverse as individuals saw (and continue to see) the military Brennan’s accomplishments – as a way to achieve economic IMDb lists nearly 250 film credits To be clear, the end of the mobility. They are smart, driven, and called him, “In many ways United States’ involvement in resilient, and entrepreneurial – the most successful and familiar words that most Americans like character actor of American the Afghan war doesn’t mean seat mate – don’t always sound films.” our service members are serving my associate with a veteran. After To be clear, the end of the without risk. World War II, nearly 50 percent United States’ involvement in of veterans owned their own the Afghan war doesn’t mean our service members are serving without risk. Our military will business, like my great grandfather; and most veterans outperform continue to execute missions across the globe in support of our their non-military peers in the long run. There is still work to do. While many veterans thrive in their national security. Some of those more sensitive missions may never be known to us. That aside, superficially this Veterans Day post-service years, others struggle. Veterans continue to be overwill be much like years past with parades, speeches, and free represented in the homeless population, court system, substance meal deals in honor of the nearly 19 million veterans living in our misuse disorders, and suicide deaths. These are hard problems, communities. Unfortunately, many veterans – especially those but they are solvable ones. For the past 20 years, Americans have who served in combat – may see this acknowledgement as at best, claimed we support our troops, but how we choose to treat our shallow and at worst, patronizing. Even before the fall of Kabul, veterans over the next few years will be the measure of whether many veterans complained that while they believed Americans we meant it or not. As a nation, we put an impossible burden on a small group were genuinely grateful for their service, few cared enough to actually learn about the sacrifices our all-volunteer military makes of men and women who volunteered to serve – fully knowing the on their behalf. This civil-military divide is not only impacting hazards of their chosen profession. If we are truly grateful for their the military’s ability to recruit new troops, but also our veterans’ service, we will invest in those individuals who have invested so much in our freedoms. Each generation of veterans have shown ability to find meaningful post-service careers. A few years ago, I was traveling from a conference in D.C. time and time again, that when they thrive, our communities, and RF in uniform, I was seated next to a young man who was wearing our nation thrive as well. a sweatshirt from a very prestigious college in the D.C. area. He was clearly bright, affable, and I was enjoying our pre-flight Joseph Reagan is the Director of Military and Veterans Outreach conversation when he turned to me and said, “so you’re in the for Wreaths Across America. He served eight years on active duty military, did you not get a chance to graduate high school?” This as an officer in the U.S. Army, including two tours to Afghanistan. 22

RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021

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Who are America’s veterans? Where are they?

Total No. of veterans in the U.S as of 2018

17.41 million

1. California.............1,471,476

6. Virginia..................655,698

2. Texas...................1,405,059

7. New York...............655,055

3. Florida................1,402,264

8. North Carolina......641,993

4. Pennsylvania..........710,375

9. Georgia...................616,527

5. Ohio.......................663,232

10. Illinois..................526,153

Women are a Growing Share of the Veteran Population













When did they serve? 21%


2% Sources:



1. U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 Census and 2018 1-Year American Community Survey.


2.U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 3.U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 1-Year American Community Survey.



Gulf War

Vietnam Era

Korean War

World War II

Peacetime only

RIPON FORUM Veterans Day 2021


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