With the Iraq War officially ended and all U.S. troops withdrawn from that country since last December, and with tens of thousands more American soldiers expected to leave Afghanistan by the middle of next year, states like Montana are smart to prepare for a surge of veterans.
These veterans have earned a hero’s welcome home. They have also earned the right to any and all support services needed to help them lead healthy, productive civilian lives. Unfortunately, many veterans will be making the transition while also struggling with physical disabilities and mental illness incurred in the line of duty. Many will be looking for jobs at time when the unemployment rate for veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq topped 10 percent at last count.
With one of the highest percentages of veterans in the nation (roughly 16 percent of the adult population), Montana is also setting the pace for its care of veterans.
Consider, for one example, the resolution recently submitted to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s State and Provincial Police Division by Montana’s own Highway Patrol Col. Mike Tooley.
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Introduced in Alexandria, Va., on March 29, the resolution, titled “Seeking Assistance to Resolve Reintegration Issues with Certain Veterans,” asks the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to help more veterans return to duty as law enforcement officers.
“Our nation’s troopers and other law enforcement officers are eager to serve their country, so it’s not surprising that many of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan come home to jobs in law enforcement,” Tooley said in a prepared statement released by the Montana Department of Justice (doj.mt.gov) and the Montana Attorney General’s Office. “As a nation, we owe these men and women our thanks, and that means looking after them appropriately when they return home.”
Nearly half the cadets at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy are veterans. Nationally, Tooley’s resolution notes that, of the estimated 2.4 million soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, 12,000 have also served as local, state, federal or tribal law enforcement officers – and that “approximately 320,000 veterans have experienced traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; about 150,000 have been diagnosed by the Department of Veterans Affairs with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the result of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan; and more than 1,525 troops have lost a limb during these deployments.”
These injuries and illnesses can be significant challenges for veterans returning to work in law enforcement – challenges they shouldn’t have to overcome on their own. Tooley’s resolution, if approved by a vote of the IACP’s 15,000 members in September, would make it a top priority for the group to bring together the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense to identify and resolve these barriers.
Law enforcement officers and soldiers alike put their lives on the line for the citizens of this country. It’s only fair and fitting that those who have served their country abroad be given all the resources they need to continue to serve at home.
EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen