The Uncertain Return: Halfaker joins discussion on the 21st Century Veteran at Aspen Ideas Festival

Less than one percent of the US population has served in the military, but the impact of Veterans returning home from war has a far greater ripple effect on our society. “As a nation, we’re really just waking up to the impact a decade of war has on our Veterans.” stated Dawn Halfaker, an Aspen Scholar, during the Aspen Ideas Festival held June 27th- July 3rd, 2012 in Aspen, Colorado.

Dawn was part of a June 30th panel titled, “The Uncertain Return: How is the 21st Century Veteran Doing?” She joined the panel in examining how Veterans survive and deal with physical, emotional, psychological wounds once they’re home; what support structures exist and if they are really helping Veterans find employment, health care, and other benefits; and what is the tangible and intangible effect of multiple tours on Veterans.

The effects of combat have already created alarming statistics amongst our Veterans—the high numbers of unemployed and alarming suicide rates indicate that our society needs to act immediately to offer greater support for Veterans. During the panel, Dawn addressed this urgent issue, “Non-profits are filling the gap supporting Vets - our senior government leaders are not being held accountable.”

The panel discussed how many Veterans are working at the local level to try and help each other. Dawn, like many other Veteran leaders, is very active in supporting Veterans in their transition to the civilian workforce, supporting Veteran entrepreneurship, and is an active supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. However, despite the great accomplishments of the non-profits supporting Veterans in their difficult journeys, more needs to be done. Dawn noted, “After over ten years of war, the VA has just finally gotten a handle on what the impact is on Veterans when they first get back from combat, but are we looking at what the impact will be on our Veterans and society further down the road? What is the VA doing to boost long-term mental health support for our Veterans?”

On the panel with Dawn were Joe Klein, a columnist and senior writer at TIME; Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; and Roger Cressey, a senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. They discussed that one way the government could help Veterans quickly enter the workforce is by certifying them in the skills they developed while on active duty before they are discharged, for instance if they worked in transportation, they would be licensed and ready to work in the private sector. In the meantime, corporations can do their part by making it a priority to hire Veterans and support the non-profits that are assisting transitioning Veterans. Dawn believes that, “The US should look at the support provided to Veterans as an investment that will in turn provide a valuable return—well-adjusted future leaders in business, politics and society.”

The Aspen Ideas Festival, hosted by the Aspen Institute and the Atlantic, was held for the 8th time this year, and gathered some of the most interesting thinkers and leaders from around the US and abroad to discuss their work, the issues that inspire them, and their ideas. Some of the guest speakers at the conference included Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak; former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan; White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett; US Army General (Ret.) Stanley A. McChrystal; former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf; Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt; and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. 

Special thanks to Booz Allen for sponsoring Dawn as an Aspen Scholar and the Aspen Institute for providing this unique experience. In an interview with Booz Allen, Dawn remarked, “The Aspen Ideas Festival was really a one of a kind event that offered a wide spectrum of enriching topics and interesting conversations. For instance, I went to a panel on parenting this morning and just got out of a panel on women in the military. It was also interesting to be able to dive into topics that I had a background in, like War and Peace. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity that Booz Allen provided me to be an Aspen Scholar.”

To learn more about the Aspen Ideas Festival, please visit: