My View: As veterans return, communities must rise to meet their needs

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Virginia has one of the largest veteran populations in the country and I believe we have a moral obligation to do right by them.

In recent years, Virginia has made great strides toward meeting that obligation.  Through the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program we ensure the families of our men and women in uniform who make the ultimate sacrifice have access to educational opportunities in Virginia.

Thanks to legislation championed by Del. Mark Keam (D-35), some veterans can more easily transition their training to civilian jobs. We also exempted those veterans who were 100 percent disabled in the line of duty from property taxes last year.

Even as increasing numbers of young veterans return home with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and lost limbs, our mental health and rehabilitative care system is underfunded and inadequate to the task. Our record is strong, but as more veterans return after more than a decade of war we must be prepared for whats next.

The challenges facing veterans and their families will not end when the wars end.  They are going to be with us for decades as they raise families, work and ultimately retire in the commonwealth. Virginia has more veterans under the age of 25 than most other states, which means the commonwealth and our local communities will be addressing the challenges to our homeless, mental health, education, family support and job search systems for years to come. When the federal government is unable to step in, it is going to fall on our state and local governments to address these issues.

As Ive gone door-to-door to meet the voters of the 30th District, the people I talk with share this commitment to our servicemen and women. We are seeing an increase in the number of nonprofits dedicated to helping them. The big question for all of us is how do we do it?  How do we weave together and provide adequate resources for a system of national, state and local partnerships that will ensure we properly live up to our obligations to our veterans?

Virginia needs a long-term plan for how well support veterans and their families for the next 50 or more years. We must ensure our health care and social service systems are prepared for the challenges ahead. Education, job training and placement needs will continue to grow.  We need a plan for how federal, state and local government will work with religious institutions and nonprofits to provide efficient, effective supports.

Facing these challenges will test our compassion, vision and commitment as a commonwealth, and I look forward to working in Richmond for new ideas that move us forward on our obligation to our men and women in uniform.

The author is a member of the Alexandria City Council, Virginia Board of Education and a candidate for the District 30 state Senate seat.

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