A Dishonor to All of Us

Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. A time for thinking of ice cream, school vacation, and so on. It’s also a time to honor our veterans, our heroes, those that made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us all free. But not all of our vets who survived the wars they fought are so honored; instead, they are homeless.

It boggles the mind when you realize how many of these brave souls who served this country in the armed forces are living on the streets and in the shelters of this nation. A third of veterans are among the homeless population in the U.S. — that’s an astounding 62, 619 American vets, people. Oh, and the Feds would like you to know that that number is down by 4,841 from the previous year. Wow, someone break open a bottle of bubbly! Really, folks, we as Americans ought to be ashamed. These heroes (and, make no mistake, that’s what they are) deserve any and all the help they need. If we want to say thank you to our vets, let’s make sure they’re taken care of when they come home. No one who has served a minute for this country should spend a minute living on the street. They shouldn’t have to do that at all.

So, what exactly is the problem? Why are the people who confront danger to defend our freedom ending up on the streets? Well, we have the usual suspects. Many vets have no income due to a lack of education or transferable employment skills – remember, they go to fight, not to learn. Many have health issues. I personally know homeless vets with health concerns who don’t get the assistance they so desperately need, regardless of what the VA wants you to believe. There are mental health issues such as PTSD, which a vast majority of vets both homeless and non-homeless suffer from. Many are so affected that the only way to deal with it is to self-medicate, which leads to substance abuse. The idea that they abuse substances because they want to is a myth.

Vets are more likely to be homeless than the rest of us, and many become chronically homeless and never make it off the street. Twist that around your brain the next time you want to sneer at someone holding a cup. You can walk around free because this person may have fought to keep you that way. Therein lies the problem, boys and girls; people don’t care enough to learn about homeless vets. Many would rather think of the homeless as people who just want to live that way. It hardly occurs to them that some of them are heroes. If we are going to ever end the tragedy of homeless vets, and homelessness in general, that mindset has to change. But hold on. In 2009, the federal government, with the encouragement of President Obama, made a plan to end the saga of homeless vets by 2015. Well, Mr. President, you only have 62,000 vets and a couple of years to go, how’s that working for you? More than likely, it isn’t. That plan has hit a snag, just like the claims in Massachusetts that homelessness would end in five years. The snag is that politicians have no idea how to end homelessness. We must hold their feet to the fire and we must insist that vets do not end up on the streets. To not demand it is a dishonor to our heroes.

–James Shearer

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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