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  • John Proctor

Homeless Veterans

Glen Allen, Virginia - Have you ever wondered what happened to our soldiers once they’ve retired?

The unsung heroes of our country, the veterans.

We may say that these veterans are really special because they are icons of integrity, service, courage, duty, honor, commitment, country and sacrifice.

We may have our moments of difficulties, of challenging days, but, these bad experiences are nothing compared with what our veterans had to face each day during the war.

And so … my wondering keyboard decided to check on these veterans.

I’m quite surprised to have learned that there are growing numbers of them becoming homeless – the homeless veterans.

Before I go deeper into the topic, let me first simplify the terms “Homeless” and “Veterans”.

As to my learnings, when we talk of homeless, it simply pertains to the group of people who have no place to live or sleep.

The people lined up outside a shelter in the evening are examples of ‘homelessness’.

And those typically poor or sometimes mentally ill people who are unable to maintain a place to live and may often sleep in the streets, parks, and other places that definitely aren’t their home.

Meanwhile, for the word veterans, my browsing yields to this definition - a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable.

Someone who has served in the armed forces of our country, especially during a war.

In short retired soldiers of our country.

If I combined the two words – “Homeless Veterans” will simply refer to persons who had served in the armed forces with no place to live and with no access to have a proper home.

Can you believe this?

Our veterans have no place to live despite having served our country and even fought in the war to keep our peace.

With this in mind, I did a little digging and discovered that this is not a NEW problem.

It actually existed since way back.

A sneak peek of what I discovered may also serve to enlighten on the situation of our veterans.

A little history and statistics of it for your reading pleasure.

Veteran homelessness in America is not a phenomenon only belonging to the 21st century; as early as the Reconstruction Era, homeless veterans were among the general homeless population.

In 1932, homeless veterans were part of the Bonus Army.

Meanwhile in 1934, there were as many as a quarter million veterans living on the streets.

In 2007, the first veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom began to be documented in homeless shelters.

By 2009, there were 154,000 of which were homeless, with slightly less than half having served in South Vietnam.

According to the Veterans Affairs in 2011, veterans made up 14% of homeless adult males, and 2% of homeless adult females, and both groups were overrepresented within the homeless population compared to the general population.

The overall count in 2012 showed 62,619 homeless veterans in the United States.

In January 2013, there were estimated to be 57,849 homeless veterans in the U.S., 12% of the homeless population.

In April 2019, the U.S. had a homelessness population of over 630,000 with 67,000 being veterans of the armed forces.

Now, this may look bad in a sense, but actually, our government did not just look at the numbers, they did take action.

I’ve learned that in November 2009, Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric K. Shinseki set out the goal of ending veterans experiencing homelessness by 2017.

While not all veterans are housed, the current housing initiatives such as the housing first model are ensuring that housing is obtained for a larger portion of veterans experiencing homelessness.

In 2019, the HUD-VASH program was able to house more than 11,000 veterans.

Overall, since 2008, more than 114,000 veterans experiencing homelessness have been served through the HUD-VASH program.

(A HUD-VASH is a housing voucher program by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration that gives out a certain number of subsidized housing vouchers to eligible homeless and otherwise vulnerable U.S. Armed Forces veterans.)

More resources are being implemented to assist those with mental health and addiction.

As of 2019, more than 78 communities and the entire states of Connecticut, Delaware and Virginia have effectively ended homelessness among veterans.

Also, Homeless Veterans may be eligible for a wide-variety of benefits available to all U.S. military Veterans.

Veterans Affairs benefits include disability compensation, pension, education and training, health care, home loans, insurance, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and burial.

Quite a happy ending I must say, and kudos to the people who work very hard to help our homeless veterans.

Now my question is, what happened or what factors were involved in making our veterans homeless.

We have to consider that these are our soldiers and their benefits are quite good.

So why did so many end up as homeless?

As per my research, there are at least 3 reasons that are most common among this population:

  1. Physical Injuries. When service members return home injured, it is often their families who provide care. But if these veterans do not have families to turn to and are sent away from military hospitals, finding housing and a job can seem impossible. These physical injuries can include second- and third-degree burns, shrapnel wounds, brain and spinal cord injuries, respiratory problems, cardiac and neurological diseases, and so much more. If left untreated, and even if treated, these injuries can heavily affect whether veterans get a job, keep a job, and find a home.

  2. Mental Illness. Almost hand-in-hand with physical injuries are mental illnesses. Life-threatening and horrible experiences are the norm in war, and when returning home, those moments play a massive role on a veteran’s mental and emotional well-being. Though there are statistics that say about 11 to 20 of every 100 veterans have PTSD in a given year, this number is, in fact, one that should probably be much higher as many veterans keep their struggles to themselves. These mental illnesses can take several forms and bring about many problems for veterans. It can make it harder for them to keep a job, maintain relationships with family members, and simply trust themselves. When paired with the physical injuries that often occur in war, the two are often the main causes of veteran homelessness.

  3. Lack of Low-Cost Housing. Though this is a problem in more ways than one, today, we’ll just briefly touch on how the general lack of low-cost housing makes it difficult for veterans to have safe shelter. When you combine physical injuries with mental illness and a lack of affordable housing, it becomes quite difficult for veterans to stay off the streets. If they can’t get or keep a job due to their injuries, if their mental illness has separated them from family, and there are no homes they can afford, then homelessness seems like the only option.

These are just some of the many reasons that had led to our veterans being homeless.

Fortunately, there are a lot of people from private and public sectors of our county that are willing to help ease the burden and predicament of our homeless veterans.

It is good to know that in some way, the eradication of being homeless for veterans and the special care they deserve is being given to them.

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