Homeless Vets. Don’t You Dare Look Away.

What do you do when the greed fueled madness of the few becomes the stark deadly reality for many, and the blatant lies of the killers become the truth that is ejected day after day from the plastic reality box , where shiny bright vultures of the ruling class, with perfect teeth and perfect hair, proclaim and affirm that what you see isn’t what you get, that your eyes and ears are lying, that war is peace and hate is love and all is righteous and good in God fearing America.  What do you do when our soldiers, bound by oath to fulfill their duty, are lied to, abused, sent to fight ill equipped, under manned, without competent leadership, stop lossed, numbed with medication, re deployed, over and over,  then are dumped into our cities and streets, forgotten and left to fend for themselves. What do you do.


I think we all get a little desensitized to the meaning of numbers that are cast about day after day by the pretty pundits and the mouths of government. A billion here, a trillion there, five hundred million over here, and after awhile all the talk and all the numbers become mindless background noise.

I live in the second largest city in Illinois with a population of just over 150,000.

Add in the four largest surrounding towns and the number goes up to around 245,000.

Now imagine all five of those cities and towns encompassing two counties, composed entirely of veterans, abandoned to the streets.


Before I go any further let me say clearly, emphatically, Fuck you Bill O’Reilly

After Kevin returned from Iraq, he spent most nights lying awake in his Army barracks in Hawaii, clutching a 9mm handgun under his pillow, bracing for an attack that never came. His fits of sleep brought nightmares of the wounded and dying troops whom Kevin, a combat medic, had treated over 16 months of suicide attacks and roadside bombings. He kept thinking about an attack that killed 13 of his comrades. He hated himself for having survived.

Kevin is just one of many who are flooding the nations homeless shelters after returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Source.

Unable to work, suffering from PTSD, abandoned by the government, men and women like Kevin are falling through the cracks in our system.


                              Veteran Specific   Demographics

23% of the homeless population are veterans

33% of homeless men are veterans

Only 9% of the total U.S. population are veterans (U.S. Census 2000)

47% served during the Vietnam era

17% served in the post-Vietnam era

15% served prior to the Vietnam era

67% served for three years or longer

33% were stationed in a war zone

25% have used VA Homeless Services

85% completed high school/GED, compared to 56% of non-veterans

89% received honorable discharges

79% reside in urban centers

16% reside in suburban areas

5% reside in rural areas

76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems

46% are white males compared to 34% non-veterans

46% are age 45 or older, compared to 20% non-veterans


Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are not accounted for in the figures cited above.

From what I have been able to surmise, nobody is keeping track of these newly homeless vets.

In 2006 Barack Obama introduced  S. 3475 [109th]: Homes for Heroes Act of 2006

It was co-sponsored by

Sen. Tim Johnson [D-SD]

Sen. Robert Menendez [D-NJ]

Sen. Charles Schumer [D-NY]

Homes for Heroes Act of 2006 – Amends the Department of Housing and Urban Development Act to establish in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) a Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs to: (1) ensure veteran access to HUD housing and homeless assistance programs; (2) coordinate all HUD programs and activities relating to veterans; and (3) serve as a HUD liaison with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Directs the HUD Secretary to provide assistance to private nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives to expand the supply of supportive housing for very low-income (not exceeding 50 percent of area median income) veteran families.

Amends the United States Housing Act of 1937 to: (1) make housing rental vouchers available to homeless veterans; and (2) include veterans in public housing planning.

Excludes veterans’ benefits from income for purposes of HUD assisted housing rental determinations.

Requires the Secretary to: (1) make grants to nonprofit entities for technical assistance in sponsoring HUD housing projects for veterans; and (2) report annually to specified congressional committees and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on HUD activities relating to veterans.

The bill was never passed and expired at the end of that session of congress.

I encourage supporters of both candidates to continue to push awareness of the plight of veterans and to urge your candidate to make this a central issue when they are elected.


How you can help

There are events across the country year round that are organized specifically to help and fill the most basic needs of homeless vets. They are between one and three days in duration.

Stand Down

In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. At secure base camp areas, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment.

Today, Stand Down refers to a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. Homeless veterans are brought together in a single location for one to three days and are provided access to the community resources needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives. In the military, Stand Down afforded battle-weary soldiers the opportunity to renew their spirit, health and overall sense of well-being. Today’s Stand Down affords the same opportunity to homeless veterans.

  Events last between one and three days. Three day events provide food; shelter, and

personal care (haircuts, personal care supplies, clothing);

picture ID services;

health care screening (HIV/AIDS, TB, Hepatitis C, etc.);

health care services (actual health care professionals will provide services);

eye care; dental care;

VA benefits counseling; general benefits counseling (Social Security, Food Stamps,

local health and human services); substance abuse counseling/recovery groups; mental health counseling; legal services; employment services (job referrals, employment counseling);

housing services (referrals to programs);

spiritual services; activities to empower homeless veterans and create a “community”

(town meetings, tent leaders, open mike, entertainment, graduation)

None of this happens without a massive effort on the part of volunteers.

That means me, and you. Here is a list of the Stand Down events scheduled for this year 2008

along with contact names and phone numbers. I can’t make this any easier for you to participate.

Find a Stand Down event near you

There are many ways you can help.

Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other,

thus should we do,

for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.

Black Elk

Operation Dignity

As a Vietnam Veteran, Alex McElree has sworn to never forget. “We don’t leave our people on the battlefield and we consider the streets the battlefield.”After returning from 3 tours of duty in Vietnam, Alex was homeless himself several times and battled alcoholism. When he looked around and saw the number of homeless veterans, he vowed to do what he could to help them. Starting with his own Social Security check, he rented a house in Oakland, bought some beds, and brought home some vets.

The Jericho Project

The Veterans Initiative

A recent study concluded that 1 out of 4 homeless individuals in the United States is a veteran. In New York City over 3,500 veterans reside in the shelter system and on the streets nightly. With an estimated 10,000 veterans returning to NYC from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next four years, the number of veterans in need of housing and support can only be expected to rise.

I chose not to write a heart rending diary focusing on the very personal stories of the many I came across while researching this. The simple fact that there are so many homeless vets is heartbreaking enough.

I have signed up for the Stand Down being held closest to me. It’s two hours away, a three day event.

It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation and my humanity for those who have been carrying a burden

alone, shunned and neglected, who deserve better. Much better. Please visit the links to find out how you too can be a part of the solution.

I leave you with this;

               Paiute Medicine Song

Now all my singing Dreams are gone,

But none knows where they have fled

Nor by what trails they have left me.

Return, O Dreams of my heart,

And sing in the Summer twilight,

By the creek and the almond thicket

And the field that is bordered with lupins!

Now is my refuge to seek

In the hollow of friendly shoulders,

Since the singing is stopped in my pulse

And the earth and the sky refuse me;

Now must I hold by the eyes of a friend

When the high white stars are unfriendly.

Over-sweet is the refuge for trusting;

Return and sing, O my Dreams,

In the dewy and palpitant pastures,

Till the love of living awakes

And the strength of the hills to uphold me

Sometimes people just need a little help finding their song,

sometimes you have to sing it with them until they remember the words.

And sometimes, all you have to do, is show up.


An addendum to this:

When I was a young man roaming the country, homeless by choice, living in a tent wherever I chose to go, In a place where vagrants camped I ran into a homeless man, a veteran of the war in Vietnam. I hadn’t ever met anyone like him before and during our initial meeting I was somewhat embarrassed by the fact that my situation was so different from his. I was on an adventure. If I really needed to I could call somebody for money or rescue. He had already had his adventures, this was now his life. He was struggling to survive and had no one to call. In my initial embarrassment and shame I couldn’t look him in the eye. At one point he grabbed me by the arm and said to me ” Don’t you dare look away”. Today I thank him for waking me up, it was the beginning of my walk towards consciousness in the world.

I hope you are still out there brother and have found safety and peace.


Please visit this site too. It was started by the parents of Sgt.Patrick Ryan McCaffrey who was killed in Iraq.

Veterans Village

Another great organization.


For those who are, or may know, a vet with other needs – here are contact numbers for the VA:

Suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Education (GI Bill): 1-888-442-4551

VA Benefits: 1-800-827-1000

(Burial , Education , Disability, etc)

Health Care Benefits: 1-877-222-8387

Income Verification and Means Testing: 1-800-929-8387

Life Insurance: 1-800-669-8477

Mammography Helpline: 1-888-492-7844

Special Issues: 1-800-749-8387

(Gulf War, Agent Orange, etc.)

Headstones and Markers: 1-800-697-6947

Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD): 1-800-829-4833


Skip to comment form

    • FireCrow on April 27, 2008 at 15:18

    Thank you.

    • RiaD on April 27, 2008 at 15:55

    there IS hope for these men & women…

    we’re holding it in our hands! please everyone, reach out and lend a hand to these heroes.

    yes, i will find something to do, close by & go help however i can…& if there is nothing close i’ll start something!

    both my dad & brother were in the military, many friends also….it is a heinous crime how this government has slowly stripped all benefits from veterans…they deserve so much…medical attention for physical & mental problems should be provided by the military at the very least

  1. Help for Vets, should be rec’d and promoted to the front page together. This issue, long under the radar, should not be allowed to remain in obscurity.

    • Edger on April 27, 2008 at 16:53

    Is it ok if we arrest George Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice and Colin Powell and Karl Rove and John McCain and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Bill Kristol and Rupert Murdoch….


  2. FireCrow, thank you for this essay here & the diary at dkos.  I worked for the VA for 34 years (a lowly clerk) and saw the human price we pay for war during that time.  

    I know that the government, and the VA could and should do much more to help the veterans, but there are many VA employees (many of whom are veterans themselves) that do go the extra mile to personally do whatever they can to help out the homeless veterans–they’re my personal “heros”.

  3. I was sent to Panama, to protect the Canal Zone, instead of being posted to Nam. And I was an 11B10 (which for you non-army types is the designation code for an infantryman), which would have sent me straight into battle if I had got sent to Nam.

    I challenge anyone to look into the eyes of a homless vet and not see and feel some of what they are going through. I say “some of what…” because with not having experienced it there is NOTHING to compare it to. I have heard the snap of bullets feet, maybe inches, away from my head, on one occasion, a very paltry comparision, I know. Yet that one experience has the ability to raise the adrenaline levels in my body, dramatically and instanteniously, years later. What about days, months and years of the same fears? Magnified by it being someone that wants to kill you, instead of some fool firing a 44 mag hand gun into the woods from the side of a road as in my case. I yelled, the shots stopped and the fool drove off, fast. Didn’t work that way for our vets coming back from combat tours.

    Support our vets, help them any way you can, what they are re-living on a day to day basis is a hell you can’t even imagine.

    All that being said, is there anyway of getting John Braasch’ phone number? He is hosting three events in Washington state and there is no contact info. Thanks.

    Be well and be at peace, wish the same for our returning vets, and DO SOMETHING.

  4. I’ve been married to a Vietnam Vet, a combat medic still suffering from PTSD, for 22 years and I haven’t looked away yet. I never will.

    Thank you for this diary and for DOING SOMETHING!

    • RiaD on May 11, 2008 at 21:55

    do you remember this? http://www.dailykos.com/commen…  

    and my reply to you? http://www.dailykos.com/commen

    i just wanted to say i really preciate your comment there…then….at times it was the only thread of hope i had….

    & i finally found my release…in a very strange way. seems i had to get to the very very bottom before i could see the way out…

    here’s the tale of my gurney-journey.

    again, thanks ever so much for your kind words to a near stranger….you’ll never know how very much they meant…

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