Shameful Treatment Of Our Veterans: Many Are Homeless; For This They Served? – Friday, February 17, 2006 – Concord Monitor
Last year the Nashua Planning Board approved a plan to create 15 one-bedroom apartments and five two-bedroom apartments for homeless veterans and their families. The great thing about this initiative was its local recognition of the continuing need of veterans for long-term permanent housing. The not-so-great thing is that the number of potentially eligible New Hampshire veterans far exceeds any available assistance.
For all the words written about the Iraq War, not enough attention has been paid to the honorably discharged veterans, including those with service-connected disabilities, who are sleeping in doorways or alleys or under bridges.
While estimates are often unreliable, the Department of Veteran Affairs, a federal agency, estimated in the 1990s that nationally some 250,000 veterans were homeless on any given night.
Homeless advocates generally believe the number is much higher now. The 1990s estimate came before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the new generation of severely maimed veterans. A 2004 VA survey identified 350 homeless veterans in the Manchester region.
The housing assistance provided by the federal government for returning veterans is extremely limited. The principal housing program for veterans has been the home mortgage guarantee loan program. Only about 1 percent of veterans use it.
There is no subsidized rental program for veterans. Nationally, there is a tiny set-aside of Section 8 vouchers to help homeless veterans who have severe psychiatric or substance-abuse problems.
The VA does run important homeless programs that serve veterans through its medical centers. It does aggressive outreach on the street. It also has community-based residential treatment facilities. But these are typically short term.
It has not always been the case that the federal government offered such limited housing assistance to veterans. After the Civil War, there was broad support for generous assistance to disabled and elderly veterans.
The federal government made a commitment to sheltering veterans in need. It set up a network of soldiers’ homes collectively known as the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The government provided Union veterans with food, board and medical care. The homes continued into the early 20th century, when they were folded into the VA.
The rationale for the homes was popular agreement that veterans had earned the right to be compensated by the federal government. Many citizens were ashamed that veterans, especially those with service-connected disabilities, were desperately poor and dependent on private charities.
We as a society appear to have lost that sense of shame. During the 20th century, there was an erosion of the societal consensus that found homelessness for veterans unacceptable. Resignation and a cynical accommodation with homelessness for veterans and others are considered political realism today.
Whatever position one holds on the merits of the Iraq war, we know some things for sure. More than 16,000 soldiers have been severely wounded in Iraq. These soldiers have come back and will be coming back. They will include veterans with traumatic brain injury, amputees, paraplegics, burn victims and those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.
These soldiers will face the same readjustment challenges faced by Vietnam veterans. It is no secret that readjustment to domestic life is frequently troubled, traumatic and agonizing. Yet we have not acted politically to consider what federal and state programs should be put in place to prevent a repetition of the Vietnam homecoming experience with Iraq war veterans.
Long-term permanent housing is widely recognized as a critical need for returning veterans. VA surveys of our region have confirmed this need. Our veterans deserve better than a life on the street. We are not repaying the debt owed by forgetting and discarding these veterans. Maybe simply regaining a sense of shame would be a positive first step.