A couple of days ago I read a lovely story about the Hometown Hero Project in a small town in Pennsylvania that helped to provide a home for a homeless veteran who served during the Vietnam War. He is ill as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange, the herbicide which was sprayed on the foliage in Vietnam to kill it. Of course, no one was especially interested in what it would do to human beings whether or not they were Vietnamese or our soldiers. How fortunate for this one veteran that folks have come to his aid. He will be given a refurbished trailer in which to live along with medical care and some funds to help with his expenses.
He is so much more fortunate than his fellow 62,619 veterans who sleep on the streets of our cities every night. While there is no reason for anyone to be homeless in America, it is a disgrace for men and women who have served in the military and in many cases have risked their lives by doing so, to find themselves without adequate resources. Of course, some of them are ill, both mentally and physically, but that is not a reason for them to be left without safety nets.
Of course we have services for veterans and thanks to first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden much more attention is being brought to our military servants and their families than was true in the past. All of us should be happy to see this shift in attention, but it is not enough. There should be no former military person finding himself or herself having to sleep on the streets. There should be adequate mental health care and medical care available to them for the remainder of their lives. None of us should be happy to see anything less.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, in addition to those who are already homeless, “another 1.4 million are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.” It is important to realize that the plight of this group of our public servants is quite affected by many factors other than economics. Many of the returning soldiers suffer from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Too often the reports about suicides of returning veterans become nothing more than a small story buried deeply in the pages of the daily paper which we casually read as we work our way to our most favored sections of the paper. A continued effort has to be made not to make our veterans invisible.
Many of us remember the attitudes that were so openly exhibited toward those who returned home after being in Vietnam. What shameful behavior many exhibited toward them. The irony is that the soldiers who fought in that war were not the people who started it, continued to fund it or who kept it going for all of the years that it lasted. They had nothing to do with that. They were simply the citizens who either were conscripted to participate or who volunteered for all of the reasons that the young choose to join the military. But none of this really matters. The most important point to make is that in 2013 there should be a resounding outcry for our nation to do better than it is doing by those who have risked their lives in order to serve our country.
Though many of them have returned home physically and mentally wounded, at the very least, they should find fellow citizens who are unwilling for them to live without the basic necessities of shelter, medical and psychological care, along with community support that shows our gratitude for their service.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.