Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just....

In my little hometown, population maybe 500, vandals defaced the Civil War statue in the center of town -- again. A group of residents pooled resources and had it cleaned. It was defaced again, a few days before Memorial Day. This dedicated group were able to get the statue cleaned for the holiday events that would take place at its base. And then something mysterious happened.

A guard appeared at the side of this statue. I mean a military figure in full uniform stood at attention for hours and hours, days on end. He was the unknown soldier. He would not talk while on duty. No one knew his name. He was simply a veteran who knew what that statue really stood for. He understood blood, fear, putting life on the line and facing a job from which many of his friends did not survive. He understands patriotism and duty and symbolism. He fights his own demons every day -- as every warrior must do. Some win that demonic battle, some don't. Some quietly opt out of the mainstream population and slip into homelessness.

Statistics show that on any given night about 200,000 United States veterans are homeless and living on the streets of this mighty country they vowed to defend. More than 400,000 experience homelessness sometime during each year.
Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country. -- NCHV
These figures come from the Veterans Administration via the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans website. And according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, those numbers are growing. Soldiers coming back from Iraq, some are living on the street. How can that be? Another article cites domestic disputes as the reason more Iraq war veterans are on the streets than even Vietnam veterans. The photo above runs with that article.

These warriors who had the courage to face an armed enemy, put their bodies in harm's way. Do what is required of them. Even if the war is a farce, the bullets are real. But they return home and can't deal with day to day life once they return to civilian status? Why are they homeless?
In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homelessness -- extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care -- a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.
The VA system is responsible of course to help these veterans. But much of what they provide is tied to local or community organizations. In Florida property taxes have been cut -- most people received a $100 reduction in their tax bill. County coffers have lost, just in my county, approximately $68 million dollars. That means that local and community organizations that provide the kinds of services necessary to help veterans find a home and live more productive, self-sufficient lives, are cut or ended. Throughout the U.S. need outstrips help available.

The U.S. Labor Department funds a program Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program. Veterans helping veterans seem to be the most effective organizations. But they all need our help.

Since the Civil War, we've mistreated our veterans. The GI Bill took a stab at compensating them for the losses they sustained defending their country, but that bill has been gouged and vandalized by our government. Remember the Walter Reed Hospital images on television of the kind of environment wounded GIs were dumped into?

The army of homeless veterans is just one symptom of a failing society. In addition to homeless veterans, we have had multiple eye-opening glimpses at stifling free speech just this week. Memos to stifle peaceful protesters and keep them from appearing on camera at rallies for the Democratic and Republican candidates. Sally Fields and other celebrity voices were censored during the recent Emmy Awards program on Fox Television Network.

Haven't you felt it for the last six years? A fear? A fear of saying what you think or of disagreeing with our government. Activists may be the new heroes of our country. They alone are standing up for all of our rights, including those homeless veterans. Standing up against our own government that has a concerted effort to silence them.

I say 'them,' because I have not picketed, carried a sign, or stood up for anything. All I've done is feel the fear. With the divide growing between have and have not. Raising home prices, elite gated communities, mortgage lenders taking advantage of the poor or uninformed. Insurance companies failing to pay or canceling policies that are not lucrative. More and more without health insurance and medical costs forcing families into bankruptcy. All of these problems come together to make more of us face homelessness. I guess when that day comes, we'll get a better understanding of the homeless veteran's situation.

Homeless veterans, all homeless are invisible in plain sight. What's that old adage about old soldiers? Old soldiers never die, they just fade away -- in plain sight.

No comments: