As we near the 10-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Yahoo News asked U.S. servicemen and women who served to share their perspectives and discuss how it changed them. Here's one story.
FIRST PERSON | In the fall of 2001, I was an aspiring twenty-something who entered an Army recruiter's office seeking adventure, opportunity, and glory. I was driven by a desire to avenge the tragic events of September 11, 2001. I was invincible, patriotic, and naive.
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Today, after eight years of service in the Army, two combat tours in Iraq as an Infantryman, a medical discharged from injuries sustained in combat, and multiple years of physical rehabilitation, I am not the young man I was 10 years ago. The education I received as a soldier in a war taught me about selfless service, pride, guilt, heroism, shame, culture, anger, loyalty, loss, and brotherhood. The years following my discharge would open my eyes as I faced obstacles that are nearly invisible to the American public.
In order to traverse the maze that is the Veterans Administration, I enlisted the aid of the American Legion. Without the American Legion, I would have never been able to navigate through the call center wait times, unavailability of appointments, delayed benefit payments, claim appeals, and reams of paperwork they filled on my behalf.
Like many veterans, after discharge, I went to college. Feeling like I was being granted a second chance, I soaked up every lecture. I welcomed the challenge to better myself academically, and I viewed school not as a toilsome requirement bestowed upon me by my parents, but as an opportunity to better myself and earn my right to a more prosperous future.
Today, as a country, we have learned that the initial motives for initiating war in Iraq may have been clouded and misguided. However, returning American troops do not bear the blame for political decisions gone array. Gone are the days when returning Vietnam veterans felt the sting of disapproval and betrayal from their fellow citizens. Today, as our soldiers come home from two separate conflicts, we welcome them with outstretched arms. However, their journey is far from complete.
People often ask me what they can do to support the troops. My answer is simple, support increases to the VA budget and donate to non-profits that support our veterans. In order for our service members to receive quality health and mental care, the VA and other private organizations need funds to operate their medical facilities. In order for veterans to graduate from college, non-profits and the VA need funds available to employ more counselors, tutors, and call center agents. In order for veterans to find personal support during their transition to civilian life, organizations like the IAVA, Wounded Warrior Project, and the American Legion need sponsors and financial donations in order to continue supporting out vets.
In the end, the disability benefits awarded to me by the Veterans Administration were appropriately granted. The Post 9/11 GI Bill ensured that I was able to obtain my degree. Support from non-profits like the American Legion, IAVA, and Wounded Warrior Project reminded me that I was not forgotten and that my country supported me.
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