Veterans: Part of the solution

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The recent establishment of the New York City Department of Veterans Services is a good step forward in ensuring we meet the needs of our veterans. By helping them, we help ourselves.

A new generation of vets is coming to the fore in New York, building on a solid foundation laid by our predecessors, who served in Vietnam and did not receive a warm welcome home. That poor reception remains a stain on our collective history, and has taught America the importance of honoring service and distinguishing between those who deploy and the politics and policy surrounding foreign affairs. We can’t repeat the mistakes of our past if we’re going to overcome our significant challenges today.

I agree with many local public- and private-sector leaders that there’s a movement afoot to establish New York City as a national magnet for vets. We should be glad for this. Veterans know leadership, teamwork, and the critical importance of engaging in their local communities. These traits bode well for New York’s diverse neighborhoods and it’s a privilege to serve as the new president of the United War Veterans Council in supporting this population of service-minded men and women. They have much to offer.

In the 21st century, veterans can serve as the connective tissue in American society, both locally and nationally. We would do well to understand their full range of experience and perspectives, and meet them where they find themselves on the spectrum of needs. Undoubtedly some require support with health care, housing, and education. Others need a hand-up — introductions to mentors and programs that can help them meet their considerable potential as civilians.

If America faces external threats across the globe, our main internal threat takes the form of a divided culture, as we focus too much on our differences. This is both a cause and a result of the 24-hour news cycle and a sensationalist approach to news coverage. Veterans know the difference between reality and hype, and they choose to operate squarely in the former. That’s why they’re part of the solution. Because our military draws from the full range of American society and has learned to work closely together, veterans can relate well to wildly diverse circumstances when they return home. We need to honor and celebrate this ability, and invest in these men and women as connectors here at home. They can help us heal the wounds so evident in contemporary political discourse.

As I take the reins from Vince McGowan, a giant in our community, it’s with a clear understanding that his generation set mine up for success. My colleagues and I are committed to following through on this legacy. Our mission is to use the strength and insights we developed while in uniform, and apply them in New York and beyond.

We’re thankful for the welcome home we received upon our return, and we want to work with the broader community to help make New York a great home for all of us.

Marine Corps veteran Dan McSweeney is the new president of the United War Veterans Council of New York. He takes over the monthly Veterans Affairs column from Vince McGowan.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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