It is estimated that on any given night in the U.S. over 40,000 veterans are homeless and living in the street or shelters (source: Google). The actual number is going to be higher than that, probably a lot higher. Yes, you’re right, no one should be homeless, veteran or not. Realistically, homes won’t be found for all that need them. That doesn’t mean to stop trying. A lot of people are of the opinion that if someone is homeless, it is because of something they did or didn’t do. Maybe they were just too lazy to get a job and would rather live off of government handouts or begging from hard working people. Maybe they have mental or physical disabilities and didn’t try to get help or try to overcome them. It could be the result of too many other possible reasons. Maybe, just maybe, their situation wasn’t caused by them or them alone. Or it might have been. Does that mean stop trying to help? No, can’t do that. No one deserves to be homeless, whatever the reason. Especially not the military veteran.
Think about it. Our military has freed countries from either dictators or religious jihads (especially in the last couple of decades). Lives were lost or troops came home with permanent injuries or disabilities. They did this is the name of democracy. Afterwards, people in those countries were able to start (or try to start) living normal lives after years of suffering. (I could describe some of the ways people were brutalized or mistreated, but that is not the point of this article). At the least they now have a taste of freedom and can hope to be able to live peacefully. Yes, I know this is still an ongoing process in most of these places, but it is more than they had before. Our troops are heroes for what they have been able to accomplish. Then they come home.
For most, finally coming home to the people that love them; whether it was after a deployment, discharge or retiring from the service, is a happy and joyous occasion. After months or even years of being separated; (which can be as stressful to those left behind as to the deployed person), they can enjoy one another again without worry (for the most part). Simple pleasures and even doing chores become reminders that there is a life besides the military. Home cooked meals will never have tasted better. Spending time with friends, family and all those that you missed while over there just might be the best part of all. That is of course, if you had anyone in your life to come home to.
But…(you knew that ‘but’ was coming) many, if not most or even all of our returning veterans come home changed in some way. Some don’t come home with all their body parts still attached. Others will have lost one or more of their senses (blind or deaf for example). Obvious physical disabilities like those are easy to diagnose and the veteran will usually receive as much help as can be given. Prosthetic limbs, mobility devices and/or support and training for adjusting to newfound conditions are offered and for the most part received. That support will also include financial assistance (such as VA disability).
What can be worse are the mental disorders. The trauma of not being the same as before you left and doubting you are or will ever be able to love and support those you love as you did. The mental scarring of experiences you went through or the inability to understand or describe how these affected you make mental disorders much harder to diagnose and or treat (if they can be treated at all). What if you were one of those returning veterans and you couldn’t find the proper words to describe to the psychiatrist or therapist how you woke up in a cold sweat one night, to realize you had your hands around your spouse’s throat? Or could it have been the fear of recrimination that kept you from mentioning that or anything similar in the first place. Possibly it was just the overwhelming sense of guilt that you came home alive, while so many others came home in body bags.
Any or all of those conditions or disabilities could keep you from realizing your dream of a normal life, with a steady income; a roof over your head, food on your table and maybe a car in the garage (for starters). What happens if there are no available jobs or jobs that will accommodate your disabilities? What are your options (as say a 21 year old who never had a credit card) when your dream of owning a home is shot down when your application for a VA home loan is denied for poor or no credit or not enough income? Yes, a VA home loan is guaranteed, but there is no guarantee you will qualify for it. What will you do when you are turned down for VA or SS disability? What if coming home to your family wasn’t quite the happy occasion you thought it would be?
After all you have gone through to serve your country and the suffering you may be going through, what happens when you find yourself with no income and no options? How will you feel when you have no job, no one supportive in your life and no home? When your bed is made of cement and trash, the label on most of your clothes say “Hefty” and your transportation are your feet and a shopping cart? How will you feel while thinking about how the people in those countries you fought for are living better than you do?
You feel … Betrayed! Is that a strong word to use? Yes it is! But how else can you feel when you have nothing and in your mind, you have become nothing. When you were willing to sacrifice mind, body and soul, but have nothing to show for it except mental or physical disorders or disabilities? When you expected promises made to you in return for your service to be kept. If you got anything at all, it was empty excuses and emptier promises. Instead of getting the help you needed you were shoved aside and literally and actually pushed out into the street. When the only words you hear now are ‘bum, psycho or addict? How else could you feel?
THAT’S! JUST! WRONG!
That is why any and all organizations to help veterans are needed! To correct the wrongs done to theses courageous men and women and help them get their lives back on track. To feed, clothe and shelter them and give them whatever other help they need. They have earned these things and are owed the ability to live the way every one else expects to, at a minimum. This help does come at a cost however. Mostly it is money that is needed. To pay for food, housing and support services for as many homeless veterans as possible. Even if just one gets the help he or she needs, it is worth it! Donations are always welcome of course. If not money, then consider donating items like food or clothing. There is also a lot of work involved in running such an organization. These require time and effort. Job opportunities are available, or show your appreciation for veterans by volunteering to help. Volunteers are always appreciated.
by Larry Shields
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