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Our Nation's Battle in Distress

Why are there large numbers of our nation’s veterans committing suicide or becoming homeless?

Unlike the veterans from our past conflicts, warfighters as they are called today, are finding it harder to readjust. You don’t need fancy research data or a professor who has never seen combat to explain why, all it takes is some common sense and understanding. To really understand, we need to first look back to World War II and the Korean War.

From 1939 – 1953, WWII and the Korean War were fought on a battlefield against a uniformed military force. Our military knew who the enemy was, and would defeat them at all costs. There was no media following the troops into battle, there was no outrage over collateral damage. Most of our military had time to decompress after the war, traveling home on ships. Going home was a journey that could take months. This was a time to deal with the effects of combat, while surrounded by those who served with you on the battle field. Upon returning home, the great majority of troops returned to a grateful nation that was recovering from the Great Depression.

The Vietnam War was the beginning of the downfall of support for our veterans. We were a nation divided over our reason for being in Vietnam. In return, this became hatred toward those serving overseas. During this time in our history, men were drafted to fight right out of high school and sent to war. The men who honored the call by our nation should have been honored, but instead were met in airports and disgraced by the very nation they stood to defend. This drove our Vietnam Veterans into the shadows, hiding their service from the public to avoid being shamed.

Desert Storm and the Liberation of Kuwait once again brought our nation together. When our men and women serving overseas returned, they were met with parades and yellow ribbons everywhere. For once, our country was proud of our veterans. The quickness of this war would return men and women home to a stable economy, but later would turn into comments that Desert Storm was not a war.

A decade after Desert Storm, the attacks on 9/11 brought our nation together again. This was also the start to the first forgotten war in our history. From 2001 – 2003 our Warfighters were again met with parades and yellow ribbons. This would all change with the invasion of Iraq. The war in Iraq once again divided our country, and soon the war in Afghanistan would be forgotten. We have now been fighting in Afghanistan for more than 15 years, with no end in sight. The men and women who have returned home after serving in the Middle East have returned to nothing.

What causes the suicide and homelessness rate among today’s warfighters? First, every program in place that is supposed to help those returning, has failed. Employment is almost non-existent, and if you do manage to find a job, if you have PTSD employers fear you. Treatment from the VA has become nothing more than pumping warfighters with drugs, and long wait times. Currently, less than 30% of veterans use the VA. Warfighters have turned to self-medication to deal with physical and mental injuries. This has caused an increase in felony charges (drugs, DUI, domestic violence, etc.). The lack of supportive services, decompression time, over medication, unemployment and divorce has led to an increase in homelessness.

While there are organizations and programs that try to help with the homelessness issue, the requirements to qualify are not reasonable. Per HUD, in order to qualify for a HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing) program, you have to meet these requirements:

  • Be receiving VA health care services (less than 30% are even enrolled in the VA).
  • Be chronically homeless, meaning homeless for a year or more, or four or more times in the past three years.
  • Have some type of income to pay for their housing (veterans are homeless because of no income).

At this point, you should understand why there is an issue. How can those who need help the most, and aren't able to (mentally, physically, or financially) meet these qualifications going to get the assistance they need?

The bigger question is, what are you willing to do to help end veteran homelessness and suicide? It is not a hand-out or hand-up, it is all about standing up for those who stood up for you.