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November 14, 2008

DEBORAH AMOS: It was Veterans Day on Tuesday and thousands of soldiers, young and old, came to New York City for the celebration. President Bush was here too, for what will be his last Veterans Day ceremony in office.

Right now, there are just under 200,000 soldiers on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. But over one million soldiers are now veterans of those two wars. As an ongoing stream of studies and reports prove, many of those soldiers return from the Middle East badly wounded, both inside and out. Thanks to better protective gear and improved battlefield medicine, soldiers today are surviving traumatic injuries at a remarkable rate. But many of the wounds they suffer will linger long after they've returned home.

An estimated one in five soldiers come back with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Of those, only half had even asked for treatment. For many, there is a stigma attached. That same study said that 19 percent of Iraq War veterans may have sustained traumatic brain injuries as well - the type of injury that could impair these young people for the rest of their lives.

President Bush said that we have a "moral obligation" to support our veterans when they return home. But what, exactly, does that mean? How should the rest of us who don't serve in the military honor the service of those who do? With those thousands of veterans in town this week, we thought it best to ask them that question.

JOHN CAMPBELL: Once the parades are over, then what happens? How do you fill in? How do you really continue to bring support for people that feel, in a lot of ways, so isolated? That's what we really think we're missing is this sense of community.

ANDREW ROBERTS: Putting the yellow ribbon in the window is great, but that's not supporting the troops. Right now- you know, if you look at World War II, there was all sorts of different things that were going on. There were little kids were running around collecting the rubber off their pencils to contribute to the war in some way. To support the troops in some way. And you just don't see that going on right now.

CARLOS LEON: First thing they could do is go to your local VA's and volunteer, or just go to say "hi" to a veteran. For a guy that's laying, or for a woman, that's laying in bed and can't really do much, and a total stranger comes by and says "I just wanted to come by and say good afternoon or good morning," that's a big deal.

DREW BROWN: Even just a handshake. Just "hey man, welcome home, and thank you for your service." That usually is enough. That warms my heart more than you know. And it's a huge thing, because veterans always feel this sense of separation from the society that they protect.

MARIA CAVALES: If you just take that little bit of time, you know, to just write a letter or, you know, get a care package or put little things in like, you know, a comic book for some of the guys or, you know, a magazine, that's more than enough. And it's very well appreciated.

KRISTEN ROUSE: A really important lesson that I learned in the military, is that you have to help people where you can. If you can do something for somebody, then do it. Whether that be, you know, serving the public in one way or another, military service, community service, political service, medical ser--, you know, whatever it is that you can do to help other people in this country and in other countries too.

ANDREW ROBERTS: There are many organizations out there that really work very hard, every single day, to support the troops in some capacity.

Sometimes just being a member of those organizations makes them more powerful. That's supporting the troops. That's actually doing something.

GENEVIEVE CHASE: The best thing people can do is be aware. Pick up the newspaper and read about what's going on.

ROMAN BACA: So many children are uneducated about the military, and I have kids walking up to me all the time and say "You're in the military? What's it like? What'd you do? Did you shoot somebody?" Parents need to get involved and educate their kids about a lot more.

ANDREW ROBERTS: I mean, I haven't even heard a call to service to join the military at all. So I think that that's an important first step to help galvanize the American population.

DON BUZNEY: I know when I came back from Vietnam, I was told that I could not be hired because I'd spent four years in the military. And my civilian counterparts had more civilian-type experience.

So, overcome that. Recognize the talent, the skills, the training that the men and women in uniform have and they bring back to. So, find a veteran. Give them a hug, and find them a job.

GENEVIEVE CHASE: I really encourage Americans who can to take a minute to write a letter to their congressman or to their senator, and say, "Can you please remember our vets?"

ANDREW ROBERTS: We just have to continue to remind our leaders that these are our veterans, and they've made tremendous, tremendous sacrifices for our nation. They ask for very little in return. But we owe it to them to make sure that we get them what they need when they come back.

DEBORAH AMOS: That's it for the JOURNAL. I'm Deborah Amos, I'll be back next week.

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