It is rare – for me, at least – to sit down and have a conversation with a U.S. Congressman. But today, Congressman Mike Simpson visited the offices of Veterans Services at the Boise State University Alumni Center, and I got to sit in. He was not there to give a speech, or to make a statement for the press. He came to listen to veterans.
The Veterans Center at Boise State is relatively new, but there is energy there. The University (and the Alumni Center) recently provided office space to allow the consolidation of three entities – BSU’s Veteran Services, the VA’s VetSuccess program, and a nonprofit for severely wounded/injured veterans called the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. The place is buzzing, and Congressman Simpson came by to learn more.
And he listened.
When he did speak, he told the group (I am paraphrasing) that we, as a nation, have a solemn obligation to care for our veterans – those who have sacrificed in service to country. He was gracious in his appreciation for what is happening in Idaho, but he quickly expanded the discussion because the scope of his concern is nationwide. What should or could he do, not just for the veterans in Idaho, but for all of them? During the course of the conversation, the trappings of the office fell off and it became a discussion between people who shared a common – and genuine – concern for those who have served. Unemployment for veterans in the 18-24 year old age group is over thirty percent. Homelessness and suicide rates are alarming and show no signs of improvement. Communication between the federal government and the states is virtually nonexistent (when veterans leave active duty and fail to check in with the local VA, no one in the state knows they are there – so no one can reach out and touch them.) The problems are real, and they are not getting better.
But if no one tries to fix the problems, they won’t get fixed.
The challenge he faces is daunting, and the bureaucracy he must battle to get anything done is forbidding. But you could see in his eyes a determination to try.
It was a rare opportunity to speak to one of our nation’s leaders, and reassuring to see his desire to do right by our veterans. Thank you, Congressman Simpson, for stopping by and for your support for those who serve.
You are our hero of the week.