By Austin American Statesman
The Austin City Council initiative to honor veterans of the war in Iraq is good news not only for those who will be honored, but for their families and the rest of us. Thanks to Conor Kenny, chairman of the Welcome Home Iraq Veterans Committee, the local group organizing the event, Iraqi war veterans will be honored with a July 7 parade up Congress Avenue to the Capitol. As the American-Statesman’s Tara Merrigan reported in Friday’s editions, Kenny was inspired by plans for a similar event in St. Louis.
“Well, hell, if St. Louis can do it, why can’t we?” Kenny said to friends over beer. Alcohol doesn’t always inspire great ideas, but this is one of those exceptions.
Council Member Kathie Tovo called the parade “an opportunity to honor our veterans and express our appreciation.” The council’s support for the parade and job fair that follow was unanimous.
There shouldn’t be any controversy over expressing gratitude to veterans, but then Austin has always had a rather ambivalent relationship with the military and military action.
The parade isn’t all there is to Austin’s embrace of the troops. After the parade, veterans are welcome to participate in a job and resources fair where information about job opportunities and services available to veterans will be available.
While parades, bands and banners are nice, veterans will still need to make a living long after the crowds that line the parade route go home.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans was 9.2 percent in April. The jobless rate for that group of veterans, ages 25 to 34, is 11.5 percent.
The number of veterans of all ages in the Texas labor force is 904,000. Of those, 184,000 Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans in Texas are either working or looking for jobs, more than any other state. Fortunately, the state has a made a strong commitment to finding jobs for veterans and is considered a national leader in the effort. The size of the state’s veteran population also means a demand for health care and social services. Some will need help in dealing with the aftermath of their experiences.
Over the years, the American-Statesman has covered various aspects of the health and employment needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Those statistics tell us that we’re going to continue that coverage for some time to come.
Yet a parade is an important and welcome gesture. How can you say “thanks” adequately to young people who fought and to their families who sacrificed during a time of war?
Well, words may never be enough, but two “thank you” make an excellent start.
-Austin American Statesman