President Bush is front and center in the news this week, a position he hasn't frequently occupied since leaving office five years ago, stepping back into the spotlight to shine a spotlight of his own on post-9/11 veterans and his fight to take the "Disorder" out of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"We're getting rid of the D," he said. "PTS is an injury; it's not a disorder. The problem is when you call it a disorder, [veterans] don't think they can be treated.
"An employer says, 'I don't want to hire somebody with a disorder.' And so our mission tomorrow is to begin to change the dialogue in the United States," he said. "And we've got a lot of good support."
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which still uses the designation "PTSD," roughly 30 percent of post 9/11 veterans suffer from the malady, which hinders their reintegration into civilian society.
Though our troops have long since left Iraq and are on track to draw down in Afghanistan within the year, America's veterans face a longer journey, and perhaps a harder struggle, on the home front. With a steep unemployment rate facing today's veterans, The Bush Center's recent joint study with Syracuse University only confirmed what so many vets are already aware of - their top priorities are jobs and education.
"It's hard to put on your resume, 'hire me; I was a sniper.' I mean the average employer can't figure out what that means," Bush said.
"On the other hand, it took enormous courage and discipline and steadiness under pressure to be successful," he said. "His job application, his job skill before, when employers better understand what he brings to the - would bring to their firm, they're more likely to hire him."
Bush said he is determined to ensure each and every veteran has a fighting chance.
"I have a duty," Bush told ABC's Martha Raddatz, sitting down during a summit organized by the George W. Bush Institute as part of its Military Service Initiative, at which Raddatz moderated the panels. "Obviously I get slightly emotional talking about our vets because I have an emotional…" The former president trailed off. "I'm in there with them," he concluded.
"These are men and women who volunteered in the face of danger. I mean, they knew right after 9/11 that the nation would seek justice and to protect ourselves," he said. "And some got hurt, and some of them need a lot of help. And our nation owes a huge debt of gratitude."
Jake Wood is one such soldier. After serving as Marine Corps squad leader in Iraq and a sniper in Afghanistan, the Medal of Valor recipient returned home and founded Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization of veterans and doctors committed to changing disaster response. Together they've helped rehabilitate Joplin, Missouri, which was ravaged by a massive tornado, and the Jersey Shore, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Their latest rehab target, like that of the Bush Center, is veteran reintegration.
"Whether they have a job or not, there's an opportunity for organizations like Team Rubicon, like The Mission Continues, to provide veterans with perhaps that sense of purpose, that sense of mission they had while they had the uniform on," he said.
Wood continued to explain that from a veteran's standpoint, support also begins by sharing experiences - a dialogue that is impeded, Wood said, both by a sense among the troops that "civilians won't understand," and by an assumption among civilians that returning soldiers don't want to talk about their experiences.
"I think we can meet each other in the middle, and understand that really this is an issue of a lack of understanding," Wood said. "How can we bring civilians and military service members together to share these stories so that there is a mutual understanding, so as a nation we can heal together?"
One way to do it is through dedicated volunteer work, and to that end, there are currently 46,000 non-governmental organizations that have been started to fight for our vets long after they've finished fighting for us.
"The work doesn't end when the last troop leaves Afghanistan," Wood said. "That's only really when the work begins."
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