With Election Day right around the corner, there's one issue that, no matter how you define yourself politically, we can all agree on: Veterans deserve the best care and support possible.
That's why MTV has teamed up with vet organizations around the country to introduce the Bill of Rights for American Veterans (BRAVE), a petition urging the next president to raise awareness and support veterans' issues, such as employment, health care, homelessness and education.
The BRAVE petition makes five specific calls to action:
1. Properly Diagnose and Treat Mental-Health Issues
Some troops come home from the battlefields with scars not visible to the naked eye. Many return with intense emotional or mental challenges, like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
One former Marine currently suffering from PTSD is Justin LaPree, who served two seven-month tours in Iraq. In 2003, he was part of the initial Iraq invasion, and in 2004, he was stationed in Fallujah, an area that saw some of the heaviest fighting and casualties. He was diagnosed with PTSD after his second tour.
Though he's been a civilian since 2005, he's still in recovery. With a lot of courage, Justin has managed to land a successful job in finance and is a major contributor to the Wounded Warrior Project, a program designed to raise awareness for injured servicemen and -women across the country. By signing the BRAVE petition, LaPree believes the transition will be much easier for many veterans dealing with brain injuries.
"It is extremely important for veterans to get this help so they can make the transition from the war zone to the civilian sector," he said. "This disease ... can take over your life with the use of alcohol and drugs and lead you down a road of hopelessness and despair. All veterans need to know that there is help available out there, and all you have to do is ask."
2. Prevent Homelessness Among Veterans
On any given night, up to 200,000 veterans are homeless in America. One of them was former Marine Sergeant Jose Adams. After serving two tours in Iraq, he returned to his native New York in May 2006 and found that he had nowhere to live.
"I had to spend three weeks on the street before getting a bed to sleep on inside Bellevue Hospital," he said.
His afternoons were mostly spent handing out fliers on the street for pocket change, until one day, a fellow serviceman noticed he was wearing military shoes. Through that exchange, Adams was introduced to Black Veterans for Social Justice, an organization that helps homeless veterans find housing and jobs.
Thankfully, Adams is no longer homeless — in fact he's now a caseworker for BVSJ, helping to keep other veterans off the street. By supporting the BRAVE petition, Adams believes we can stop homelessness from impacting the next generation of veterans.
3. Give Disabled Vets the Benefits They Deserve
Veterans who have sacrificed for their country expect the government to hold up their end of the deal. Currently, veterans are waiting up to eight months for disability compensation. According to former Army Specialist Aubrey Arcangel, this needs to change.
"With approximately 1.7 million veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, many with multiple tours, taking care of America's military men and women should be a priority and not an afterthought," Arcangel said. "It is a shame that the presidential candidates have spoken very little about veterans, those of whom have served honorably and deserve to be taken care of. BRAVE is important because it outlines the top priorities our veterans are facing."
4. Veterans Hospitals Need to Be Fully Funded
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides patient care and federal benefits to veterans and their dependents. The VA is where many vets get the care they need. But the hospitals don't get funding until after the fact, so a lot of the doctors and treatments they need are not available when they need them.
Zambia King, a former specialist for the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, knows this firsthand, as she's currently seeking treatment for a back injury she suffered during her tour in Iraq.
"I receive all of my health care and get my prescriptions filled at the VA," she said. "I constantly experience the result of lack of funding. Significantly more often than not, when I go to the hospital for a 30- to 45-minute appointment, I spend at least two to three hours total, because I have to wait so long to be seen. Simply put, there absolutely needs to be more funding for the VA to hire more staff. After all, taking care of veterans is a cost of war, so the president must start paying the price."
5. Pay The Troops for the Work They Do
Right now, many soldiers and Marines who should be home end up having to go back and fight. Extended service takes a physical, emotional and financial toll on not only the servicemen, but on their families as well. The BRAVE petition urges the next administration to insure that troops who have been stop-lossed get paid an additional $1,500 a month.
To help make BRAVE a reality, head to ChooseOrLose.com and sign your name so the next president knows that taking care of our young vets is a priority for this country.
Don't miss "A Night for Vets: An MTV Concert for the BRAVE," presented by MTV's Choose or Lose campaign and CNN to support veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The show features performances by 50 Cent, Ludacris, Kanye West, Hinder, Saving Abel and more, and airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV.
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