Veterans in Nebraska

Bryon Line
Former Army officer and civilian intelligence professional with experiences also as a defense sector industry executive and analyst

32 years of military, civilian national security, and defense industry service were very good for me and kept me in daily touch with military issues and concerns. I was generally aware of veterans issues insofar as they affected me or my colleagues , principally educational and retirement issues.

Yet I knew that not all of my fellow veterans enjoyed similar success in the larger society.  I researched the status of veterans in Nebraska. It quickly became clear that there was much to learn and more importantly, much more to do.

I became a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) AmeriCorps member this past summer. VISTA is the original domestic Peace Corps for antipoverty programs. I was embedded by VISTA with the Lutheran Family Services (LFS) At Ease program, specifically designed to help Nebraska veterans and their families. At Ease provides free and expert services in clinical, therapeutic and peer to peer counseling at many locations across the state for hundreds of persons.

The VISTA role has enabled me to work with a large number of Nebraska public and private organizations and persons to improve the position of veterans and their families in the state. These dedicated and helpful organizations and people are dedicated to bettering veterans’ lives here in the state.

From my own personal observations and experience, I can speak to a few characteristics and conditions of the veterans’ environment in Nebraska.

Veterans’ health care is truly outstanding insofar as the Veterans Hospital in Omaha is concerned. It has consistently high service and relatively low wait times according to recent VA-wide studies and auditing, and fares very well in comparison to far too many others around the country. The Omaha hospital complex, however, is old and needs upgrades – likely a totally new hospital complex. The facility has been wait-listed for at least a generation. There may be more useful and achievable alternatives that could decentralize aspects of the hospital’s services into less expensive, more rapidly built and occupied structures. These could be located at various points in the greater Omaha area or distributed more widely around the state. It may/should be possible to co-locate these with important charitable and nonprofit organizational activities and services dedicated to veterans’ health and well-being.

Qualified senior veterans and their family members have a wonderful living option in the four state-run veterans’ homes in Nebraska in Bellevue, Norfolk, Grand Island and Scotts Bluff. These are outstanding facilities – well-run, modern, and well-equipped. The aging of the veteran population in the State means that the potential demographic of eligible senior veterans as possible residents of the homes is increasing. Expansion of the homes may well be necessary, which would require a commitment of both public and private funding and support.

Much is made of the national “average” of 22 veteran suicides each day.  Though I’ve not been able to find statistics specific to Nebraska veterans, veteran suicide is a real phenomenon. A continued strong emphasis on veteran depression (PTSD and related) is needed as well as a dedicated parallel effort to identify, document, and delve empirically into likely causes and best practices for mitigation and suicide prevention. My impression is that much of the cause may derive not from combat exposure but from aging, employment/income or lack of same, quality of life, preexisting mental and emotional conditions and tendencies, or substance abuse. Lack of suitable, purposeful activities giving veterans meaning and connection to their communities can also cause isolation – a definite reality in the vast sprawl of Nebraska.

Finally, efforts to reduce or even eliminate state taxation of veterans’ retirement would mean material and demonstrative improvement in the lives of many. These also include improvements in the Medicare/Medicaid posture in the state, which affects a significant percentage of senior veterans along with the general senior population within the state.

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