Don't let our warriors fade away
October 21, 2010
- more than 250,000 homeless veterans
- Operation Stand Down
- national tragedy
- The Department of Veterans Affairs
On Sunday, the television news program "60 Minutes" aired a piece on Operation Stand Down, an organization dedicated to helping the more than 250,000 homeless veterans who walk the streets.
While this organization - in addition to other veterans groups - does what it can to help homeless veterans get back on their feet, the sad truth is that they are overwhelmed.
They simply do not have enough resources and manpower to put toward eradicating this national tragedy.
As a result, men and women who have honorably served this country are now sleeping on sidewalks and park benches.
Former warriors are going hungry; not knowing when or from where their next meal will come.
Troops who have survived gunfire and mortar rounds are dying from preventable illness and lack of quality medical care.
Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen are fighting battles with their inner demons alone - and losing. After watching this program, I asked myself why there wasn't more being done to help veterans in need.
I wondered where the outrage was; I wondered why more people weren't helping. I started to get upset about what I perceived as a societal indifference about the toll of war on the ones who fight it, and began to berate the hypocrisy of politicians, military leaders and all those "responsible" for taking care of veterans.
However, in the middle of my rantings, I was stopped cold by the embarrassing realization that I haven't done anything to help homeless vets either.
Even worse, I realized that I had no good reason for not doing so.
I'm a veteran. So are a significant number of the people working or living throughout Fort McPherson, Fort Gillem and the Army-at-large. Many of us have faced the same problems and trials that our homeless veterans have faced.
We know what it is to face the uncertainty that comes with leaving the military system and venturing into the "real world."
We have dealt with the stresses that come with seeking a job to support ourselves and our Families.
We have struggled to come to grips with all that we have seen and endured. We have wrestled with the aches, pains and lasting physical and mental damage we earned during tours of duty.
Make no mistake: our brothers-and-sisters-in arms need our help - and we must answer the call.
We cannot let our warriors fade away. We must do our best to help the men and women with whom we share a legacy of service to live their lives with dignity and honor.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has reported that more than 9,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns are living on the streets, and places the total number of homeless veterans last year at around 250,000.
Additionally, there are more women among homeless veterans than ever before, because women make up 14 percent of current American forces.
Tragically, today's veterans are becoming homeless quicker than their counterparts from the Vietnam era.
According to VA, there are any numbers of factors that can contribute to troops falling through the gaps when transitioning from military service to civilian life.
These factors range from unemployment - the unemployment rate among returning veterans is double the national rate at around 20 percent - to substance abuse and poor financial planning. Another significant contributor to veteran homelessness is combat stress or other types of posttraumatic stress disorder.
The VA says thousands more veterans may become homeless because of stresses created by continuous deployments and traumatic brain injuries from improvised explosive devices.
This is alarming, because more than two million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and, over the last nine years, 800,000 troops have been redeployed at least once.
According to the "60 Minutes" report, approximately 250,000 troops have asked for mental health treatment.
The implications of these numbers for the future well-being of our newest generation of veterans should not be ignored. To be fair, VA has announced a goal of ending homelessness among veterans in five years, and under the direction of President Barack Obama, the federal government has said it will spend one billion dollars in housing and rehab efforts.
While these are admirable goals, such efforts should not be limited to the government. Due to our unique understanding and perspective, those of us who have made a successful transition to civilian life should be the first in line to help our fellow troops in need.
The fight against homelessness among veterans will not be easy. As with any other campaign, it will take planning, resources and dedication to see it through. And while the battlefield may be different, the specter of death still casts its shadow over the men and women on its front lines.
In the Army, we pledge to "never leave a fallen comrade behind."
That promise shouldn't end once we leave a battle zone. We can win this war if we fight together, so get up and get involved. Don't let our warriors fade away.