Making the connections: Homelessness, vets and the Iraq war

This Friday is a day designated to remember the homeless, as well as a day to take some action to stop the war in Iraq.

And, yes, they are related. As the environmentalists remind us, everything is connected.

We are creating future homeless veterans every day in Iraq.

It’s got to stop.  And we’ve got to stop it.

National Council for the Homeless explains:

Each year since 1990, on or near the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has sponsored National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day to bring attention to the tragedy of homelessness and to remember our homeless friends who have paid the ultimate price for our nation’s failure to end homelessness. This year, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC) has joined us in co-sponsoring this event.

The National Council for Homeless Veterans answers the question: How many homeless veterans are there?

Although accurate numbers are impossible to come by — no one keeps national records on homeless veterans — the VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. And nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a 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. According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999), veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America.  

Friday, December 21, is also Iraq Moratorium #4, which includes a plea to remember and honor veterans and their families during the holiday season, the fifth Christmas with US troops in Iraq — at the same time that we take action to end the war and bring the troops home.

While we all count the dead, we pay less attention to the wounded, and even less to those who may not technically be “wounded” by hostile action, but who are traumatized and injured long-term, even permanently. Those veterans, their families, and our nation will be caring for them and coping with the aftermath of their time in a combat zone for decades.  We are still paying the human and financial cost of the disaster in Vietnam.  We will still be paying for what has happened to our service men and women 50 years from now.  But the veterans themselves will pay the real price, and many will end up sleeping on heating grates in years to come.

The numbers are staggering. The Pentagon admits to 28,000-plus wounded in Iraq.

[A] July 20, 2006, document titled “Compensation and Pension Benefit Activity Among Veterans of the Global War on Terrorism,” shows that 152,669 veterans filed disability claims after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of the more than 100,000 claims granted, Veterans Administration records show at least 1,502 veterans have been compensated as 100 percent disabled.

This, of course, doesn’t begin to address the millions of Iraqis who have been killed, wounded, displaced,and had their lives destroyed by the US invasion and occupation. That’s another tragic, mind-numbing story.  

Every day our troops remain in Iraq, it is guaranteed that more of them will be permanently damaged. If you have a strong stomach, a photo essay in the New England Journal of Medicine will give you a taste of what kind of casualties and injuries are being treated.  It’s not pretty.

Neither is the picture painted by Ron Kovic, the Vietnam veteran who knows firsthand what it is like for the seriously wounded who survive.   He writes of the forgotten wounded:  

Young men and women who survived the battlefield, the intensive-care ward, veterans hospitals and initial homecoming will be unable to make the difficult and often agonizing adjustment.

Is this what is awaiting all of them? Is this the nightmare no one ever told them about, the part no one now wants to talk about or has the time to deal with? The car accidents, and drinking and drug overdoses, the depression, anger and rage, spousal abuse, bedsores and breakdowns, prison, homelessness, sleeping under the piers and bridges. The ones who never leave the hospital, the ones who can’t hold a job, can’t keep a relationship together, can’t love or feel any emotions anymore, the brutal insomnia that leaves you exhausted and practically unable to function, the frightening anxiety attacks that come upon you when you least expect them, and always the dread that each day may be your last.

There is no better way to support our troops than to get them out of Iraq. A good place to start is by doing something on Friday to help the homeless and end the war.


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    • Tigana on December 19, 2007 at 19:05


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