Homeless Veterans Essay Sample
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Homeless Veterans Essay Sample
Homelessness is a major social issue facing our society today. Homelessness among United States veterans is of particular concern to me because I understand some of the pressures facing vets upon returning to civilian life. Given the Iraq and Afghanistan tours and number of soldiers returning from multiple tours in “hell”, it’s no wonder the number of homeless vets has more than doubled in the past two years. (Zoroya, 2012) Serious measures need to be taken to save our “fallen soldiers” from the perils of a desperate life on the streets of America.
We must first understand the life of homeless vets to draw valuable insight into why conventional attempts at solving this issue are fruitless. Our society needs to take ownership in working with State and Federal Government to implement successful solutions which produce positive results in eliminating homelessness among our veterans. Homeless female vets are often overlooked in current strategies and we need to take this fact into consideration and develop appropriate solutions for the forgotten gender. Finally, restoring vets to a productive role in society is an ongoing process and requires more than putting a transitional roof over their heads and revolving door rehab treatment.
The number of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who are homeless or risk losing the roof over their heads is increasing as more of these soldiers return home. Through the end of September, 26, 531 of these vets were living on the streets. (Zoroya, 2012) These numbers could be even higher because it only represents the number staying in temporary housing or receiving federal vouchers to pay rent as noted in Department of Veterans’ Affairs reports. (Zoroya, 2012). There were more than 62,600 homeless veterans according to data from January 2012 released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (Paralyzed Veterans of America, 2013). Author of Hope for Lost Vets sums this statistic up perfectly in saying “even one veteran without safe and stable housing is one too many.” (Paralyzed Veterans of America, 2013)
First step in solving a problem is understanding why the problem exists. An autobiographical depiction of one veteran’s struggle with homelessness provides valuable insight into understanding this social dilemma. Homeless in the City: A Veteran Describes the Decade He Has Spent Living on the Streets is written by Theodore Walther. The author spent over 10 years living on the streets of a small city on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I could see myself falling into this fellow soldier’s plight if not for the emotional support of my family and financial security of a military pension. Walther describes homelessness on various levels such as short-term which can be a result of divorce, loss of job, financial hardship, or death of a loved one. According to Walther, these people continue to participate and function in society to the best of their abilities.
Walther categorizes himself as chronically homeless or long-term. Walther’s journey into the streets began with him selling everything and going into rehab. He was self-medicating with alcohol to deal with his demons resulting from his tour of duty. He thought rehab would turn his life around and he would once again be a productive member of society. Obviously, rehab was too short and did not resolve the issues responsible for his drinking problem. This was the start of his homelessness adventure which lasted 10 years. Walther provides an inside opinion of the broken social services system society has in place to handle the problem of homelessness. For example, Walther states, “When I saw the sheer numbers of men and women going through these rehab centers just as I was, without a clue as to what was really happening to them, I realized how hopelessly broken this “world of recovery” really is. It’s a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.” (Walther, 2014)
Walther went on to describe the conditions a homeless person encounters and how the simple daily routine of hygiene can take and entire day to accomplish. The author describes the perils on the streets and how public perception impacts their self-esteem and ability to dig themselves out of the homeless hole. Walther talks about the “magic mirror” which kept him going through the years. He would look into a mirror outside of an old pharmacy every day and seeing his reflection would give him hope that he was worthwhile and had something to contribute to society. His laptop and daily trips to the library to read and write were what kept him grounded and helped with his struggle to survive. Walther describes how difficult it is for the homeless to obtain a job and assimilate back into society as productive contributing members. “once you’ve been out on the street for a prolonged period, say a couple of years or more, whatever skills you once had are gone or severely diminished and your ability to deal with everyday social situations is compromised” (Walther, 2014)
This article is extremely important because one must first fully understand homelessness before anything can be done to correct the problem. The credibility is undeniable. The author paints a self-portrait of his struggles and provides thoughtful insight into the “Band-Aid” cures provided by various social services. He now receives federal disability compensation and, for the past two years, has been living in an apartment in Los Angeles, where he continues to write.
Typically people have turned their heads in disgust when looking at a dirty, smelly homeless vet lying on a park bench etc. and blamed the vet for letting themselves get into such a situation and the Federal Government for not taking care of the vets. The American public needs to take ownership in solving this issue and play their role in numerous ways. First and foremost which is a simple fix that has dramatic consequences is treating homeless vets with dignity and its incumbent upon us as a people to have a greater concern for others than for ourselves. Simply meeting the homeless vets with understanding and empathy is the first step in eliminating veteran homelessness. Federal funding is a major hurdle that must dealt with in handling this issue, and the American people are a strong force in lobbying our legislatures for appropriate action.
For example, there is a bill in congress, The Mobile Medical Homeless Health Improvement Act (HR 29) which provides for one of the best available methods of reaching our homeless veterans. (Paralyzed Veterans of America, 2013) The bill provides funding to local hospitals to create a mobile medical unit that can provide case management, behavioral and mental health care, medical care and screenings and immunizations. This unit would essentially visit the streets where the homeless reside and seek out veterans. Many services are available, but the homeless vets just don’t have the means to reach them. Unfortunately, like many other successful homeless veteran venues, the bill is sent to committee to die or funding is not renewed based on budget cuts. The American people need to contact their congressmen and support these initiatives. Votes create action.
Local Rotary clubs and business leaders can be very influential in contributing to the success of homeless veteran initiatives. Guest speakers like Walther can put a real face on the issue of homeless vets and success stories fuel continued support and funding for charitable organizations dedicated to eliminating veteran homelessness. Arizona is a leader and provides a model program as recognized by the White House in addressing the homeless veteran and providing proven measurable results. Project H3 Vets is a nationally recognized program coordinated by the Arizona Coalition to End Homeless. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2013 homeless assessment report to Congress, Arizona was among the states that saw the greatest decreases in the number of homeless veterans from 2012 to 2013. (Lee, Success in housing for homeless veterans in Phoenix touted, 2014) Project H3 Vets brought together local, state, community, social-service and business leaders for the past two years in an aggressive push to take the most vulnerable veterans off the streets.
The program’s success is credited with these groups coordinated efforts in finding housing for the vets. The model is simple, get a roof over their heads first, and then address the issues (mental health, financial, substance abuse etc.) which contribute to their homelessness. This helps to reduce the Band-Aid effect of social rehab programs. Having a permanent roof over their head takes the worry out of their basic survival and allows the other issues to be addressed. Another key factor in this program is providing navigators for the homeless. Many of these navigators are former homeless vets themselves. These navigators provide moral support and assist with various tasks like filling out the necessary forms for the homeless vet to receive services, food boxes, housing vouchers etc. The navigators also make sure the homeless vets get to their appointments by reminding phone calls and transportation. Local officials and advocates set a goal of housing 222 veterans who fit the federal definition of chronic homelessness. So far, 187 vets are permanently housed in apartment complexes across the Valley. The rest are in transitional housing awaiting federal housing vouchers. (Lee, Success in housing for homeless veterans in Phoenix touted, 2014)
Finally, an often overlooked group of homeless veterans is the female vet. Lt. Col. Patricia Gatson (U.S. Army Retired) addressed the needs of more than 7,000 female veterans at a fall forum. According to Gaston, female veterans are four times more likely to be homeless than civilian women. They often have histories of trauma or abuse prior to military service, and one in three military women say they have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the service. (Ziegler, 2014) Female veterans make up about 17% of the veteran population in the U.S. according to the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services. (Lee, Female veterans struggle to overcome homelessness, 2013) Phoenix is at the forefront in addressing this aspect of veteran homelessness. The major obstacle is once again funding. MANA House provides transitional housing for homeless male veterans and opened its doors to women earlier this year. MANA House is one of the only resources specifically provided for female veterans in the Phoenix area.
Unfortunately, there is only room for up to 16 women. The long-term life of this project is unclear because it does not have a stable funding source. There are several funding efforts to pay for the women’s space. The problem here is that women vets are a smaller percentage of the population and therefore their needs are not addressed specifically. Terry Araman, program director at the Madison Street Veterans Association states, “As a nation, it’s our obligation to make sure we’re stepping up and not shortchanging women veterans, because I think that’s what has happened in the past. They’re a small group and maybe not as vocal, maybe not as prominent as the men veterans. But still, they deserve all the support we give to the men.” (Lee, Female veterans struggle to overcome homelessness, 2013)
In conclusion, comprehending the homeless vets’ plight will empower people to provide the much needed support in locating and ensuring access to much needed housing, medical services and job training for our homeless vets. We need to enhance services for female vets which provide a safe place for them to address their issues and rehabilitate back into society. It’s easy to criticize the military for not providing proper exit education to our troops or to blame the VA for the demise of mental health providers. It’s human nature to look for a quick fix to a complex problem. However, war is an experience that keeps on giving back through addiction, divorce, flashbacks, etc. Our soldiers and their families need all the support we can provide. Jeff Susman eloquently states, “We need to do more to reintegrate returning vets into civilian life. The reality is that we owe our vets—and their families—far more than we provide. (Susman, 2012) Susman quotes a soldier he met on a plane a month before Memorial Day. He sat next to a young man returning from his tour of military duty…”He seemed mature, upbeat, and whole. But when I asked him about his experience, he responded: “Sir, I gotta tell you, what I saw was hell.” (Susman, 2012)
Lee, M. Y. (2013, September 2). Female veterans struggle to overcome homelessness. The Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona, United States: Arizona Republic. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/article/20130902/BENEFITS04/309020022/Female-veterans-struggle-overcome-homelessness Lee, M. Y. (2014, January 20). Success in housing for homeless veterans in Phoenix touted. Arizona Republic. (A. Central.com, Compiler) Phoenix, Arizona, United States: AZ Republic. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from http://www.opencongress.org/search/result?q=Mobile+Medical+Homeless+Health+Improvement+Act+HR+29&search_bills=1&search_people=1&search_committees=1&search_issues=1&search_congress%5B113%5D=113 Paralyzed Veterans of America. (2013). Hope for lost vets. PN-Paraplegia News 67.11, 58. (A. O. File, Compiler) Retrieved February 27, 2014, from http://go.galegroup.com.ezlib.gatewaycc.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA348311844&v=2.1&u=mcc_gateway&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=c57b29f1ed895343ce48f8192fa08c4e Soroya, G. (2012, December 27). Homeless, at-risk veterans double. USA T27oday. Susman, J. (2012, May). Witnessing Hell. Journal of Family Practice, 246. (A. O. File, Compiler) Retrieved February 27, 2014, from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do=GALE%7CA28139&v=2.1&u=mcc_gateway&it=r&p=&sw=w&asid=e5d7aef8f865ee1b79756e0cf94072b Walther, T. (2014, winter). Homeless