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Homeless and Displaced Veterans: America’s Hidden Pandemic

April 24, 2017

Source: As a nation, our society faces many insurmountable challenges; however one of our most pressing issues that affect the quality of life in communities is the rapid rise in veteran displacement and homelessness. Sam Burlum examines what is at the core of this issue and the available resources in solving this matter.

The statistics are alarming; beyond alarming. It’s as if the alarm has been signaling to our great nation, yet many of us decided to turn the radio up, similar to when we hear that irritating noise our car may make when it needs a repair, however at that time it is easier to ignore it than be inconvenienced by taking time out to solve the problem. Veteran homelessness is rising at an unprecedented rate. Even with the number of nonprofit organizations that outreach to homeless veterans aimed at getting them off the street and into a home and/or back to work, the amount of homeless veterans outpace the investment of time it takes to reach a veteran and get their situation resolved.

The National Alliance for Homelessness published their report in 2014, in which they sampled homeless populations in which were reported across the nation, whereas one January 2013 night, over 610,042 individuals experienced homelessness. Veterans accounted for about 10 percent of this total figure, or around 60,000 veterans were accounted for as reported to be homeless. Currently there are just less than 400,000 retired military personnel, who include former enlisted personnel, officers, and related staff whom received military retiree benefits. Also included in this demographic are disabled veterans, and veterans that suffer from mental illness. That means over 15 percent of this population are homeless. Like I mentioned, that is only those that have reported to be homeless.

There are a number of homeless veterans whom either go unnoticed or refuse to reach out for help for a number of reasons. The largest contributor to why most non-reporting homeless veterans refuse or hide from help relates to mental health. The largest mental health issue that diminishes this demographics’ ability to function in society, able to integrate back into civilian life, is post traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. The number of veterans affected by PTSD depends on the era they served, as indicated by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Over twenty percent of veterans (about 500,000) whom served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have experienced PTSD. This has increased from the Gulf War, where only twelve percent of the military (about 84,000 veterans) served had PTSD. As it relates those military personnel whom served in Vietnam, a more recent study demonstrated over 30 percent of returning Veterans (about 770,000) had admitted and/or were diagnosed with PTSD. Prior to Vietnam, very few statistics were kept on this subject matter. The numbers of homeless veterans that stem from the demographic of those that served in Vietnam and those that served during Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom are so parallel in spite of gap between the ages of generations that served.

So what is the cause of PTSD? And how do we solve this pandemic issue that is in every corner of the United States? PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event; either experiencing it or witnessing it, according to the Mayo Clinic. However Jake Clark, Founder of Save A Warrior, has a different view.

“PTSD is not a condition of the mind or a mental health issue. What we have found, is PTSD is a condition that the inner heart and emotional state must be healed of the wounds and stresses of battle that impact so many whom hide their emotions from family, friends, and fellow colleagues in fear of being mocked,” added Clark.

“We focus on bringing peace to heart and then mind, so our cohorts can now come to terms with the things they had to deal with as a part of battle, first touching upon the inner peace of themselves, learning to forgive themselves, then others. Save A Warrior has had a 100 percent success rate without having to use the normal aids of prescription drugs,” continued Clark during an interview with Sam Burlum a few years ago at the SAW Facility in Malibu, California.

“Veterans are either too scared or are too embarrassed to ask for help, and so we need to reach out to the community and their families to bring them out of hiding and into the light so we can offer them all the assistance that we have available,” provided Sandy Mitchell, founder of Project Help, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that delivers on a number of veteran assistant services including clothing drives, fundraisers and lending a hand to other causes where proceeds directly benefit veterans in need.

Veterans have disclosed to this investigate reporter that it has taken them years to get help from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). “Gerry” (he did not want to reveal his complete name for this interview), was a veteran whom served late in the Vietnam Campaign, and continued to serve in the military until the mid-1980s.

“It took me years just to get someone at the VA to give me an answer on how I can access my benefits. When I finally did get access, I waited for what felt like forever to get medical assistance for aliments I had related to my service in the field,” shared Gerry, “I see in regular hospital, illegal immigrants whom don’t speak a word of English get better care than I whom served this country.”

“I can’t believe after eight years of service in the navy, it took the administration another two to four years to just get my application in front of an advocate and case worker. If I were a criminal, I would have had service afforded to me right away,” added Matthew B., from New Jersey, a veteran of the navy whom served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “It’s no reason why this system has to be so complicated. When you complain about it, it seems then magically your application gets lost or you go to the back of the line. Who wants to sign up to serve in the military if we are treated like second-class citizens,” questioned Matthew.

The VA has defended its position, in saying, “There is a process in which each veteran’s needs must follow a protocol in order for the need to be addressed, and we have limited resources available,” when called the VA Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey, as the receptionist refused to provide her name.

According to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the 2017 Budget for the VA is over $182.3 billion dollars, a far cry from poverty in which homeless veterans experience. So with so many dollars dedicated to the VA, one would have to ask the question, “why are so many Veteran’s homeless and/or displaced?”

It seems like when our nation needs to focus on solving these pandemic and systemic issues, we have turned a blind eye and worries more about what how a professional football player decides to make a political statement. It is civic our duty to hold our political leaders to a vow of assisting our nation’s veterans.

Without a doubt, men and women whom put their lives on the line to fight and defend the freedoms and civil liberties afforded to us under the U.S. Constitution, deserve better. Each of us that did not serve in battle or in uniform should take notice to this rising tide. It is our duty and our privilege to serve those whom fought on our behalf. We have a responsibility to do so. What message are we sending to young men and women that would have considered joining the military, when we cannot care for those properly that return home from the battlefield? That is the battle on the homeland that now matters the most.

Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy and public policy concerns. He is also a career entrepreneur who currently is the CEO/President of Extreme Energy Solutions Inc., a green tech company located in Sparta, New Jersey. Burlum lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in a number of areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management and systems integration. He is also author of the books, The Race to Protect our Most Important Natural Resourceand Life in the Green Lane – in Pursuit of the American Dream.

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