Homeless Vet Treatment: A National Disgrace
They sleep on the streets, in alleyways, storefronts, tunnels, in their cars and in the subway, and anywhere else they can stay warm. They are the forgotten veterans of America -- the homeless vets. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless (http://www.nationalhomeless.org/) there are between 130,000 and 200,000 on any given night representing between one fourth and one-fifth of all homeless people. The Veterans Administration estimates there are about 1.5 million other veterans at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. Who is to blame for this national disgrace?
Isn't it the VA's job to take care of our veterans? Yes and they do to some extent but the problem is much greater than can be dealt with by the VA alone given its limited resources. The VA served more than 92,000 veterans in 2009. This still leaves almost 100,000 who experience homelessness annually and must seek assistance from local government agencies and community-and faith-based service organizations. There are some excellent services available for vets including stand down (http://www.standown.org/), a non profit that assists homeless male veterans who have lost their homes and their ability to lead productive lives due to mental & physical illness, addictions, and/or other issues regain their independence and lives through transitional living. Perhaps the best known help organization is the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (http://www.nchv.org/) that serves as a resource and technical assistance center for a national network of community-based service providers and local, state and federal agencies that provide emergency and supportive housing, food, health services, job training and placement assistance, legal aid and case management support for hundreds of thousands of homeless veterans each year. The National Veterans Foundation in Los Angeles (http://www.nvf.org/) serves the crisis management, information and referral needs of all U.S. veterans and their families through management and operation of the nation’s only toll-free helpline for vets and their families. NVF also has outreach services that provide veterans and families in need with food, clothing, transportation, employment, and other essential resources.
The Circle of Friends for American Veterans has sponsored a "Veterans' Bill of Rights" (http://www.vetsvision.org/billofrights.html) (HR 5953) that passed the U.S House of Representatives on November 30, 2010. The bill never became law because it was proposed in a previous session of Congress and not passed by the Senate. All bills that haven't been passed are cleared from the books. The Senate referred the bill to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Some senators objected to the cost of the bill in a time of bloated budget deficits and a massive national debt.
Here are the pledges that are included in a petition given to Congress to promote passage of the bill:
"By signing this petition I agree that we need to:
1. Properly treat mental health issues
2. Prevent homelessness among veterans
3. Give disabled vets the benefits they've earned
4. Fully fund our veterans' hospitals
5. Compensate troops made to serve longer"
The Canadian government passed a Veterans' Bill of Rights in 2007. It guarantees benefits for veterans, equality of veterans, and refers to them as "special citizens." It also theoretically "entrenches respect and dignity for veterans and their families."
The U.S. House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees have jurisdiction over the Veterans Affairs Department, one of the largest federal agencies with a $114 billion budget and 300,000 employees. It provides benefits checks and medical services to the nation's 22 million veterans, including the thousands coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with mental and physical wounds. On February 1, 2011, the Brookings Institute presented data that indicates spent and approved war-spending in Iraq is about $900 billion of US taxpayers' funds through November 2010, about 8 times the size of the VA budget. What's wrong with this picture?
I read a disturbing story in the Detroit Free Press that a homeless vet named Charles Duncan, 42, was beaten with a baseball bat and dragged behind a pickup truck on October 6, 2010 in Corktown, Detroit's oldest neighborhood. Steve J. Diponio allegedly told police he was tired of homeless people sleeping near his house. He pleaded not guilty on December 3 to the attack on Duncan.
As a society, what are our ethical obligations to take care of our veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country? Let me put it this way: A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it's least fortunate amongst them.