Sunday, July 26, 2009

Homeless Vets

I read an article in the Sunday Santa Rosa Press-Democrat about Stand Down, an annual three-day event held last weekend in San Diego to provide respite and services to homeless war veterans. The injustice of homeless war veterans infuriates me. Whether you are a pacifist, hawk, Republican, Democrat, or lefty war protestor, doesn’t matter, across the board, I am willing to bet that you feel the same as I do. There should be a fail safe mechanism that ensures that every war veteran at the very least has a home, an income (from a job if they are able to work), food on the table, security. In this land of plenty, even in a recession, you would think there is room for us to provide for our war veterans.

Stand Down events are held annually in many cities throughout the country for, as they refer to them, “former members of the armed forces whose lives have collapsed.” At the one in San Diego last week, a tent city was erected for three days. Nearly 1,000 vets turned up (more than last year’s 830) to take advantage of services, including hot food, haircuts, massages, dental care, legal aid, referrals to substance abuse treatment programs, connection to federal benefits, and a place to sleep. Almost all the vets at the event are suffering from some form of mental illness, such as traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or clinical depression. Many of those suffering from depression are depressed because they can’t get a job and have been chronically unemployed for so long that they have become homeless. One woman interviewed was an electrician’s assistant in the service. She had a job but lost it in the recession. Unable to get work again in the field of electrical work, she applied for anything she could find. She says even McDonald’s turned her down. I know affirmative action is being outlawed nationwide, but it seems to me that a war vet should be able to go to the front of the line.

The V.A. estimates there are over 200,000 homeless war vets in the U.S. right now; but that number will be increasing because vets from Iraq and Afghanistan have not yet landed on the streets since it takes a few years in a downward spiral for a disoriented vet to end up homeless. The number one reason for homelessness among vets has traditionally been psychiatric problems and more than a third of Iraq and Afghanistan war vets who have enrolled in the veterans’ health system since 2001 were diagnosed with PTSD , depression, or other mental health disorders. This means there are vets out there who need attention, recognition, and support to secure a productive, comfortable life. They are owed, don’t you think?

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