There are 18.5 million veterans in the United States today.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 1.5 million are dealing with substance abuse issues. On any given night, 40,000 veterans are homeless. And 17 veterans die by suicide each day.

Re-integrating into civilian life following military service can be even more challenging than the battlefield for some of our returning warriors. And that’s not right.

I’d like to say that rural America would be a great place to return to for our sons and daughters who enlisted to protect our nation and fight for liberty and justice around the world.

But, right now, we need to work on that.

Oh, it’s not because we lack patriotism. We have that covered. No, it’s because we lack the support services and the resources to help all veterans start their post-service lives and stay healthy and thriving.

We still have a long way to go to bringing the Veterans Administration hospitals and therapy services to every county in Kansas, let alone every county in every state. And that’s ridiculous. Every county has an Extension Office, staffed to help you and me figure out how to live our best lives and be better farmers, ranchers, homemakers, gardeners, and more. Why on earth is it not possible to bring the VA to every county?

Keeping up with the VA paper trail is a nightmare if you don’t have a smart phone or internet access. So why is it that we have three credit bureaus that track my three-digit score from birth until death and it’s used to influence every single decision in my life, but we don’t have a system that digitally tracks veterans through every single doctor, therapist, and VA representative that touches their files?

Making appointments six hours away is fine if you have a reliable car or public transportation, both of which can be tough to find in rural areas. How is it that we’ve figured out how to have dentists load up semi trucks with their equipment and perform multi-day charitable dental clinics in the most rural parts of America—but we can’t load up a truck with VA doctors and staff to do the same?

Sure, it’s one thing to encourage businesses to hire veterans. I mean, if anyone could provide the flexibility, adaptability and understanding that a veteran needs to thrive in the business it would be our agribusinesses. We’re the kings of adapting, surviving and thriving every day.

And, yes, the skill set that military veterans bring to the table is just what we need out here in farm country. From emergency responders, to logistics management, veterans are problem-solvers who can work as a team and persevere.

Remind you of any farmer you know?

But, in order to make this match of need and supply, we have to put the investment of time and energy into making our rural areas a place of opportunity for them to plant their roots.

It starts with you and I, standing up for the ones who stood up for us. And making sure that they have a home, a job, and a community that they can come back to and apply their skills in and make rural America even better than how they left it.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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