Memorial Day is just around the corner. It's often viewed as a time to enjoy family and friends, and usher in summer. Unfortunately, the true meaning of this important day is often lost to picnics and parties.
As designated by Congress, Memorial Day recognizes the service men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms. It is a day where we pause to reflect on the memories of our fallen heroes, and remember what they died fighting for – the American traditions and values we hold most dear; "...that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
But Memorial Day is also a time to express our deep appreciation and respect for those who served and survived, which is why the entire month of May marks Military Appreciation Month.
The America we know today would not be possible without our veterans and current military members. Indiana is home to about 550,000 veterans, and we owe each of them a great debt.
One of the best ways to thank our Hoosier veterans is to make sure they are supported when they return home from service. Tragically, members of the military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face an unemployment rate significantly higher than the overall U.S. rate.
Throughout the years, the Indiana General Assembly has sought to help active military members and veterans find employment and secure a fulfilling life after their service. The effort to make Indiana the most supportive state in the nation for veterans continued during the 2014 legislative session.
There is now a law making it illegal to refuse to hire an applicant based on their status as a U.S. military veteran, National Guard member or reservist.
Additionally, veterans can now earn more college credits for courses and tests they completed during their military service. In addition, state universities will establish programs to assist veterans training to be teachers.
Veterans gain unique and valuable skills in service to their country, and transferring those skills to real-world careers should be as seamless as possible.
To help our disabled veterans, grants will be awarded to law schools operating veterans' disability clinics, which offer legal services at little to no cost to veterans. Another law eliminates time restrictions placed on service members and their dependents to apply for support from the Military Family Relief Fund.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental-health concerns plague too many veterans. Half of our country's veterans with PTSD never seek treatment, and as many as 5,000 veterans commit suicide every year.
To help right this wrong, the Indiana State Department of Health will further study the implementation of programs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
The Hoosier Women's Veterans Program was also established this year, which aims to improve services specifically for the more than 33,000 female veterans who call Indiana home.
My hope is that the General Assembly's work will make a significant difference in the lives of our service men and women. May God bless our veterans, military members and their families.