COMING home is considered the end of a deployment for many soldiers, but far too many soldiers are soon redeployed to live on the streets. There, they battle new and different enemies such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and substance abuse, leaving them ill equipped to win this battle against these enemies.
Few sights are quite as sad as a broken soldier and the streets of the United States are littered with them. These male and female soldiers have served abroad and here at home. In each case, the cracks that permeate their damaged core are barely visible to the naked eye. They are broken vases glued back together, appearing whole but fragile.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, one in four homeless people is a veteran. In 2006, roughly half a million U.S. veterans had spent time living among the homeless. In 2010, 131,000 veterans resided in King County and nearly 1,150 were homeless, making up 21 percent of the homeless population.
The plight of homeless veterans resonates with me. I am a veteran of the Gulf War, where I was deployed aboard a ship as part of a battle group in the Persian Gulf. Two of my brothers were deployed in the Red Sea aboard two different ships. My family history is steeped with military service, including D-Day participation during World War II as well as service aboard the USS Missouri during the signing of the surrender by Japan.
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We must help our homeless veterans and provide them with shelter, mental-health services and education. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, shortening the length of time a veteran remains homeless is critical for the prevention of long-term physical-health problems, mental-health problems and substance abuse. The longer they remain on the streets, the higher the risk of developing severe health problems.
The VA reports that of the 62 percent of homeless veterans who reported two or more years of homelessness; more than 61 percent reported a serious physical-health condition, 55 percent reported a mental-health condition, 76 percent reported a substance-abuse habit, and 32 percent reported all three.
There is hope on the horizon and it is coming from some grass-roots organizations. One called Community Solutions has started the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which aims to find permanent homes for 100,000 homeless veterans by July 2013.
Another organization, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, is organizing Stand Downs. Stand Downs were first used by the military during the Vietnam War and provided a safe haven for U.S. troops to recover from the effects of war, tend to personal hygiene as well as provide a place for camaraderie. Today, Stand Downs include fairs relating to health, benefits and jobs to give veterans access to the safety net of earned benefits.
King County voters have also helped, by approving an $80 million six-year Veterans and Human Services property-tax levy last year, half of which supports veterans and military personnel.
These are important steps, but they are not enough. City, county and state officials should direct more funding to programs. Seattle City Council, for example, just added $600,000 to the city’s proposed budget for homeless programs.
I know what it is like to serve and sacrifice in the U.S. military. Those who have not served need to take on the role of ensuring that those who do serve are returned home safely and are integrated back into society as whole as when they left home to serve.
Edward LaPoint is a writer and student at the University of Washington, where he is studying Society, Ethics, and Human Behavior with a minor in Human Rights.