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The Optimistic Futurist: Thanking our Veterans takes more than parades and prayer

by Francis P. Koster Ed. D.

This Thanksgiving holiday will find many families gathering around a shared meal, giving thanks, including thanks to the members of the military for keeping us safe.   And that will be that.

It isn't enough.  There is more to be done.

Charlotte, North Carolina is one a few communities nationally that has an organization that turned a spotlight on the issue of how we as a nation say thanks, and has successfully done something about it.

Tommy Norman, a Charlotte area Vietnam era veteran, became aware of the current barriers faced by newly returning vets when he tried to help a newly returned wounded warrior assume a civilian lifestyle.   Even from the vantage point of a mature successful civilian entrepreneur and civic leader he saw the path forward these days was beyond confusing.  47% of those returning vets who were surveyed by the Pew Research center rated their return to civilian life as "difficult". 

He stepped up and founded an effort that became The Charlotte Bridge Home which provides a range of support to returning veterans.  

The more the staff worked with veterans, the more they became convinced improvement in re-entry support was needed on a national level.  The Charlotte Bridge Home facilitated a comprehensive study of the situation and discovered some stunning facts. 

Over 2.5 million Americans served in uniform in either Iraq or Afghanistan.   A third of them were deployed more than once, and 400,000 were deployed three or more times.   The casualty rate is high.  Of the2.5 million who served there, 1.6 million have been discharged.  Of those discharged, 670,000 have qualified for some level of disability - about 2 out of every 5!

There are over 55,000 veterans - one in 13 adults- living in Mecklenburg County, where Charlotte is located. More than you would think are young, and about one- third of them served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  One in five homeless people in the Charlotte area are veterans.  One in five younger vets is female - and these female vets are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.  Unemployment rate among Charlotte area veterans is one and a half times that of non-veterans.

While programs to assist veteran do exist, getting register for them can be painfully slow due insufficient staff at the Veterans Administration offices.   As of November 25, 2013 the Veterans Administration reported that nationally 696,000 such applications are "pending" and 390,000 of those were 4 months old or older.  In North Carolina where the backlog is in the range of 9-10 months.    This situation was made worse by the October 2013 shutdown of the government for 16 days.

According to the Department of Defense, almost one-third of the returning vets examined were diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) because these recent wars have our troops living among hostile people who literally surround them and attempt to inflict injury in random constant attacks. The impacts of PTSD can be reduced if proper care is given but most vets do not know of their options, and need a hand to get the help they deserve.

The Charlotte Bridge Home staff who took up the challenge to make our society better not only reached out and provided service to the vets and their families, they hosted an area wide gathering  to identify holes in the array of existing services, improve coordination, and increase impact - to stunning results.   Over 400 interested people show up, including those representing 26 military and government agencies, 25 not for profit organizations and 66 companies.  Working together, a plan filled with locally implementable and replicable solutions to our national problem was developed.

The leadership of the Charlotte Bridge Home has recognized that the local problem/opportunity they are working on exists in other communities all across the United States.   They are working hard to make both the problem and the solution available to other communities.  That is a kind of patriotism we can all be thankful for.

So do more than bow your head at Thanksgiving.  Take one step forward.

To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to



  • Francis P. Koster is a member of the Rotary Club of Kannapolis
  • The opinions expressed by the authors of each Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff.

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