Veteran’s Day makes me think of my grandfather.
He was a veteran of World War II and I grew up hearing countless stories about his time in the service. His favorite story, and mine, took place when he was stationed off the coast of India. His ship was leaving to be deployed in the Pacific and as his ship was leaving port, he saw his brother, my Uncle Charles, standing on another naval boat on their way into port.
Veteran’s Day festivities often focus on parades, marches, and remembrances of the veterans who have proudly served our country and for the immense sacrifices they have made to help ensure our safety and freedom. The evening news inevitably will always have video footage from a local event or footage of a memorial ceremony at a local cemetery as well.
I have no problem with these events and, in fact, am happy to see our veterans honored. My issue is the empty rhetoric often surrounding these activities. It’s all well and good to have a day of memorial for our veterans. It’s also fine if politicians and the media want to parade out press releases full of thank yous and god blesses for our brave veterans who sacrificed so much. It’s all part of the show and I get it. It’s not fine though to continue to say these things when, despite all of our honoring of veterans on Veteran’s Day, the current state of affairs as a whole for veterans in our country is shameful.
According to a new study released Tuesday by the National Alliance to End Homelessness approximately 131,000 veterans were homeless at some point in 2008. One out of four homeless people, and one out of three homeless men, is a veteran. The report states veterans are twice as likely to be homeless as those who never served in the military.
The study also showed that black veterans are largely over-represented. Despite making up only 10 percent of the veteran population, they make up 45 percent of the homeless veterans population. Another disturbing trend in the study was the rise of homeless female veterans.
All of this is sad news and should not give you that warm, fuzzy feeling of national pride as we honor our veterans today. And yes, many organizations are doing good work in their effort to get a handle on this crisis. At the national level, the National Alliance to End Homelessness is striving to bring awareness of homeless veterans to the forefront and are attempting toÂ make this a big focus of their efforts. At the local level, we have the veterans program at Volunteers of America as well.
My argument isn’t that nobody cares or that nobody is doing anything about it. What bothers me though is how did this happen in the first place? We talk about the sacrifices veterans make each passing Veteran’s Day, but if billions of dollars can be put into Army of One recruitment ads, why can’t resettlement services be in place to help prevent our returning veterans from becoming homeless? How about services in place to ensure every returning veteran has aftercare services in place as well to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and other mental injuries that, if left untreated, create a downward spiral taking years to fully realize.
The bottom line: it’s time, and quite frankly, it’s been time for a long time, for us to back up our talk with some real proactive and not reactive, systems in place to assure quality services for all veterans are in place for when they come home.