Stop Patronizing Vets and Start Helping Them

The Empty Rhetoric, Especially on Veterans Day, Sickens

Vietnam war veteran
Vietnam war veteran.  Photo credit: Jon Martin / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
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In the annals of shame and hypocrisy, few things match America’s duplicity toward its veterans.

For their troubles, they earn lip service from politicians, are allowed to board some airplanes first, receive a few bucks off at restaurants and, once a year, get their own holiday on which everybody expresses support for them. They are also honored at sporting events in ceremonies that, despite appearances, are actually paid for with taxpayer dollars.

But step away from these feel-good exercises, and you get a bucket of cold water in your face. Let’s take a frank look at the serious problems that veterans are facing every day — and what is or isn’t being done about them.

Homelessness

A disproportionate share of veterans are homeless. While the total number of homeless veterans has decreased in recent years, there are still 50,000 of them on any given night.

Estimates vary on how much it would cost on average to get a homeless person off the street. A conservative estimate is about $20,000. That means it would cost $1 billion to house every single homeless veteran — a sum less than 0.2 percent of the defense budget.

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A photo by Brad Rachford, Independence KY, U.S. Marine Corps, Gulf War Era. Part of a VA image contest to help raise awareness for Homelessness Veterans. Photo credit: VA.GOV.

Some comparative figures:

• A single Virginiaclass submarine costs more than providing housing to every single homeless veteran for two years.

• More than 200 companies on the current Fortune 500 list have profits in excess of $1 billion.

• The same NFL teams that regularly pocket Defense Department money to sponsor “patriotic” tributes to veterans are now building (often taxpayer-funded) stadiums that routinely cost more than $1 billion each.

Not only is the current neglect of homeless veterans unconscionable, there is actually a less expensive, and more humane, way to deal with the problem. By implementing this novel approach — giving the homeless homes — the state of Utah has all but eliminated chronic homelessness.

Suicides

Veterans commit suicide at a much higher rate than civilians. According to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data, approximately 8000 veterans will kill themselves this year — that’s 22 suicides a day. The actual number may even be higher because the service record of many suicide victims isn’t known.

If the undergraduates studying at Yale would begin killing themselves at the same rate as veterans, there would be none left after eight months.

Despite these appalling figures, there are some encouraging signs in this area. Earlier this year, Congress unanimously passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. This legislation requires independent reviews of suicide prevention programs administered by the VA and the Pentagon. It also mandates the creation of a website that provides veterans with information about mental health services.

However, many veterans and their advocates believe the problem cannot be solved with money and new programs.

“To address the crisis of veterans’ suicide, we need to rethink how we reintegrate veterans into civilian society after their service,” former Army Ranger Sean Parnell wrote in the Military Times. “Far too many veterans return home, often from high-stakes, high-stress combat situations, only to find themselves ignored, misunderstood and alienated from their fellow Americans. In short, we don’t have a policy shortfall — we have a cultural shortfall.”

A major part of the problem is that many veterans return from war with invisible injuries.

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Veteran living on the street. Photo credit: VA.GOV.

PTSD

An eye-popping 138,197 cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been diagnosed among troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq through the middle of this year. In comparison, among non-deployed soldiers, 39,264 PTSD cases were diagnosed in the same time. However, a study by the RAND Corporation estimates that the actual number of cases is much higher. It puts the figure at about 20 percent of those who were deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. That would mean there are more than half a million veterans from those wars who suffer PTSD.

That is well more than the population of Atlanta.

Unfortunately, half of the veterans who suffer from PTSD do not seek treatment and those who do often get minimal care. The incidence of PTSD could be a major reason for the high number of suicides.

But veterans are not just harming themselves. They also make up 10 percent of death row inmates, according to a study released on Tuesday.

PTSD and its relationship to violence is a dicey subject for the military. After all, who wants to admit that those who are asked to kill abroad are going to be a problem for society when they return?

“Individuals with PTSD are not dangerous. Although PTSD is associated with an increased risk of violence, the majority of Veterans and non-Veterans with PTSD have never engaged in violence,” the VA says. “When other factors like alcohol and drug misuse, additional psychiatric disorders, or younger age are considered, the association between PTSD and violence is decreased.”

However, the VA also acknowledges that those with PTSD are also more likely to use alcohol, so there is a relation. Untreated PTSD also leads to increased drug use, according to the RAND Corporation.

Unfortunately for veterans, they have had problems getting the care they need. Last year, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) was mired in a scandal after an internal audit determined that 35 veterans in the Phoenix VHA system died while waiting for care.

While the VHA has made strides in improving access to care, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report last month that more must be done with regard to providing access to mental health services.

GAO noted that the VHA had spent $3.9 billion to provide outpatient specialty mental health care, but that the increase of veterans in need of such care has outpaced the increase of staff providing it.

On this Veterans Day — the 15th since the invasion of Afghanistan — it is clear that veterans participating in the two most recent wars are still facing great challenges upon their return.

In order to help them find normal lives back home, they need much more than empty tributes at sporting events and a free cup of coffee once a year.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Solitary figure (Devaughn Parrish / Flickr CC BY 2.0).

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7 responses to “Stop Patronizing Vets and Start Helping Them”

  1. […] A photo by Brad Rachford, Independence KY, U.S. Marine Corps, Gulf War Era. Part of a VA image contest to help raise awareness for Homelessness Veterans. Photo credit: VA.GOV. Link to 2015 article: STOP PATRONIZING VETS AND START HELPING THEM […]

  2. THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE! The itty bitty, dollar store band aides that the VA are using to attempt to staunch the raging arterial blood loss amongst my fellow Veterans is reprehensible.
    1) VASH – Veterans Administration Supportive Housing – is the VA’s “answer” to helping homeless veterans. This wholly UNFUNDED program is nothing more than providing a VA Social Worker to a veteran as a means to assist the veteran in obtaining HUD housing! Yes, the veteran has to apply and qualify for HUD; which means that the veteran MUST have some type of income in order to obtain housing.
    Once in the program, when (not if) the veteran needs financial assistance with rent, utilities, or food, the VASH coordinator performs the grand gesture of providing the veteran with a list of local charities and organization for the veteran to contact.
    Should the veteran be evicted from the home (or choose to leave) he/she will permanently lose any future VASH program assistance. If any utilities are disconnected, HUD will revoke their voucher – causing loss of VASH.
    The veteran is required to report ALL family income to HUD – including child support and any income earned from a part time job by any minor children, and their portion of the rent is based upon that “income” – taxable or not. So much for little Johnny planning ahead for his future and socking away his hard earned money for college or trade school. Not to mention the near impossibility to save a penny for the regularly occurring rainy day.
    Additionally, the veteran is REQUIRED to report monthly to their VASH coordinator. The scope and sequence of such reporting varies greatly depending on the individual coordinator. In essence the veteran has given up all privacy by accepting the very much needed assistance to secure a home off the streets.
    How do I know all these disgusting details? Because I am in my 11th month in the program – and facing imminent eviction due to financial circumstances beyond my control. I am a disabled veteran who is facing the very steep uphill battle with the VA for my Service Related Compensation and Pension appeal. Due to a fubar on the part of the Texas Office of Attorney General – Child Support Division our family income has been suddenly, and without any forewarning, drastically cut by $534/month down to my tiny 10% VA C&P of $133/month. We simply cannot afford to pay our rent, utilities, and food expenses on that paltry sum. And as would be expected, the VA is playing a resounding symphony of “Crickets in A-minor”, while all the local agencies are unable to assist us for one reason and another.

  3. (Comment by reader @campechesss) Let’s have our politicians send their children to fight their bloody wars. We would not have any more wars.

  4. Jack C says:

    I don’t know how many people WWW reaches but to see a mere 4 responses to this article @ 6pm pacific time 11/15/15 is possibly why the problem exists. Not to disparage the other comments, but nothing will change without a call to General Quarters – “man your battle stations.” We have always had those who send us off to die or come back wrecked. We volunteered or were drafted, and either way we knew that we would die or come back crippled in mind or body. Those who rule us either don’t care about, or are unable to help us veterans. We can continue to bitch and listen to lie after lie, or start something little and build until we beat these arrogant sleazy politicians and
    bureaucrats like Mike Merrill of the City of Vancouver Parking Enforcement Department. We could start boycotting his office, his home, follow him with signs denouncing his actions. This can be done everywhere in the country. In DC, follow and make them ashamed.

  5. Paul E. Merrell, J.D. says:

    Intending no disrespect to the author, but the “vet” problem runs far deeper than portrayed. Examples: [i] the source of the PTSD, suicide, and homeless vet problems is fighting foreign wars that have nothing to do with defense of the citizens of this nation yet everything to do with serving the economic interests of amoral oligarchs and the voracious appetites of defense industry contractors; [ii] the VA Healthcare System needs to be thrown overboard entirely and replaced with a single-payer healthcare system for all that is integrated at the community level, so vets don’t have to travel hundrds of miles even for routine lab test blood draws; and [iii] it’s simply silly to expect the situation to improve substantially before we get money out of politics so that elected officials’ first loyalty is to voters rather than to campaign contributors.

  6. K. Chris C. says:

    With respect, but vets, I am a “peace time” vet,” are 1) not “our vets,” and 2) need to demand what they were promised, and are owed, from their previous employer, the treasonous DC US government, not from the also preyed upon American people.

    I.e. we, the American people, did not Unconstitutionally send them to rob, maim, and kill overseas;The DC US government did–see them for payment on debts owed.

    An American citizen, not US subject.

  7. raypc800 says:

    I am a Veteran and live in Vancouver, Washington. The lack of help for Veterans goes all the way down to the City level of Government. In this town my neighbor and I have on-street parking only. My neighbor is an old Marine who has done 2 tours of combat duty in Vietnam. He now has to use crutches to slowly and laboriously walk. The further the walk, the more the pain.
    The problem is that City officials in their vast wisdom made street parking 2 hour parking here. Yes residents’ passes are free but your parking spot is up for grabs. Thus on numerous occasions my neighbor has had to walk further then necessary to get to his apartment. I went to City Hall and had a meeting with Mike Merrill from the City of Vancouver Parking Enforcement Department. I explained the circumstances and requested that the City make a parking spot just for my neighbor. He flatly refused, he refused to help a Veteran who served to give him the safety that he currently has. Thanks for nothing Vancouver, Washington.