Monday, November 12, 2007

When Soldiers Come Home…

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Nov. 12, 2007 - The epidemic of homelessness among military veterans is an abomination, and an indictment of the war system

Yesterday, news media reports in the Washington, D.C. area released a statistic that will startle most people in America: of the more than 12,000 homeless people in the Washington, D.C. area, about a quarter of them are veterans of the U.S. military.

National statistics are equally bleak. On November 8, 2007, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released a 36-page report indicating that, on any given night, there are nearly 200,000 homeless veterans in America; twice that number experience homelessness at some point during the year.

For a military that prides itself of projecting an image of egalitarianism and real opportunity for soldiers, these numbers aren’t just troubling – they are disgraceful.

Most veterans are certainly not homeless, and most homeless men are not veterans. But the staggering number of persons who served honorably in the armed forces of the United States, only to find themselves without a roof over their heads, should tell us something about the war system - and the moral priorities of the leaders who recruit people into the military.

The United States will spend, in the next fiscal year, more than $500 billion on the military, and more that that if you count billions more for supplemental appropriation for the virtually bottomless pit of the conflict in Iraq.

While it seems to be relatively easy for our tax dollars to buy rifles, and tanks, and helicopters, it seems equally impossible for our taxes to provide adequate housing, jobs, and rehabilitation for the men and women who find themselves trapped under the cold, hard underbelly of the system that many of them fought to defend.

In my numerous conversations over the years with veterans from the first Gulf War to the 2003 Iraq invasion, I'm struck by their nearly unanimous feeling of bitterness and alienation from the Veterans Administration, and the failure of the V.A. to provide them with the assistance and resources they need to re-integrate themselves into society. V.A. facilities for counseling, civilian job training, and health care resources are totally inadequate; the family challenges created by ever-longer combat tours enormous.

For wounded and disabled vets, however, the story is much worse. Many of them have experienced being denied disability claims. And growing numbers of combat veterans are coming back with not only physical wounds, but with combat-related psychological disabilities that the government won’t acknowledge - or treat. They, like the heroin-addicted soldiers of the Vietnam era, all too often find themselves on the waste heap of war.

President Bush and Vice President Cheyney, who are zealously sending hundreds of thousands of men and women into the vortex of the Iraq war, seem less that eager to demand the resources needed to care for them when they come back home.

I'm not a supporter of war, and especially the one being fought by the United States in Iraq. But the personnel in the armed forces are honorable human beings who deserve the care and consideration due to them for their service to the country.

For the richest nation in the world, and one that has the capacity to build shelter for everyone, the idea of a soldier who comes home to homelessness is more than unfortunate. It is morally intolerable.

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