This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 7 March 2012.
For the first time since Vietnam, America has vets coming home. They’re not coming home to good times. Nationally, unemployment hovers around 8.5%. Among veterans, it reaches over 20%. Many are able to go to college using the GI Bill, but despite having years of work experience, veterans still find getting a job difficult. Some in Congress want to cut veteran’s benefits and shrink military pensions. Despite the abundance of flags, t-shirts, and stickers, veterans still face a tough fight.
These are five campaigners who fought for the country and continue to stand up for their fellow veterans:
1. General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
After resigning as Army Chief of Staff after objecting to the Bush administration’s push against applying the ‘Powell doctrine’ in Iraq, Shinseki was appointed in 2009. Shinseki served as NATO commander in Bosnia and earned two Purple Hearts in Vietnam. Under his tenure, the VA has focused on addressing issues of Iraq/Afghanistan vets, tackling veteran’s homelessness, and implementing the new post-9/11 GI Bill.
2. Matt Victoriano, Founder of Veterans V.I.P (Voice. Influence. Purpose.)
Matt Victoriano served two tours as a Marine scout/sniper in Iraq. Since leaving the military, he travelled the country as part of the Veterans for American Power Tour, speaking at public and press events about the need for American energy independence, freedom from foreign oil, and new energy. He is currently organizing a ‘Veterans Justice Army’ to address veteran’s issues, unemployment, income inequality, and the injustice of banking bailouts while veterans sleep on the streets.
3. Patrick Bellon, Executive Director of Veterans for Common Sense.
After serving as an Army cavalry scout for the 4th Infantry in Iraq, Bellon worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Vet Voice Foundation. Veterans for Common Sense has a ten-year record of successful legal and policy campaigns which have resulted in increases suicide prevention and emergency services, improvements to VA claims processing, and positive changes to the handling of PTSD and TBI cases.
4. Glenn Kunkel, Louisville, Kentucky
Glenn Kunkel served two tours as a Marine infantryman in Iraq. As a military advisor to the new Iraqi army, he received the Purple Heart for injuries in two separate attacks. After undergoing extensive physical therapy, Kunkel has continued to serve as an energy security advocate for Operation Free, a coalition of veterans seeking to end American dependence on foreign oil. He also travelled the country as a speaker for the Wounded Warrior Project’s ‘Warriors Speak’ program, telling his story and that of other veterans to raise awareness of what they face.
5. Eli Williamson, Execute Director of Leave No Veteran Behind
Williamson, a Chicago native, served tours with the Army in Psychological Operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. LNVB is a non-profit that seeks to fill gaps sometimes left by government programs for veterans. They give financial assistance to veterans for educational programs and help them find transitional employment. Chicago Public Schools awarded LNVB a contract employing veterans to watch over children on their way to and from school.