Veterans Day is set aside as a day of honor, but the nation needs to do much more

This Friday residents of Clackamas County, like millions of others across this country (and others), will honor those who have served in their nation's armed services.

It's a time to celebrate the men and women who served in war and peace-time, in combat or support services. And there are many ways to do so … with the easiest being a simple 'thank you.'

Veterans Day is an important holiday, but this year, as our nation prepares for a new generation of soldiers to return from Iraq, it's a sobering one.

For while our returning men and women don't face the hostile homecoming that Vietnam vets had to endure, they have their own hardships.

The U.S. Labor Department last month reported that the unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans stands at 12.1 percent, significantly higher than the figure for civilians.

More troubling, the Veterans Administration estimates that veterans, who make up 13 percent of the population, represent one-third of the adults who are homeless. On any given night, the VA figures, roughly 131,000 veterans are homeless, including 1,500 veterans from the current wars.

And while the numbers are less precise, the VA has said an estimated 20 percent of all suicide victims in the United States are veterans and a study by calculated that in 2009, nearly 2,000 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars attempted to take their own lives.

There are similar disparities for substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness. It is very clear that these numbers are numbing.

Veterans groups have been talking about this for years, and finally, it seems, they have someone at the top who is listening.

Last year Gen. Eric Shinseki, President Obama's Secretary of Veterans Affairs, vowed to lead a national drive to end veteran homelessness in the next five years.

He also ponied up $3.2 billion to bolster programs to provide housing, education, jobs and health care to help troubled veterans before they hit the streets and aid the transition of 40,000 veterans released each year from prisons.

Meanwhile, Obama's proposed tax breaks for companies that hire unemployed or disabled veterans is expected to clear the U.S. Senate soon.

These measures are a start, but only a start.

The real test is how we will treat our veterans after Friday's tributes are over. As we prepare for the 2012 elections, that's a question that should be posed to anyone seeking state or federal office.

And whether it's today or Veterans Day or some other day, the most important thing we all should remember is to say, 'Thank you.'

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