Jordan A. Sprogis
Before last week, nobody seemed to care about the homeless veterans and I can’t help but wonder what caused the sudden change of heart.
Now, there are exceptions – I can’t generalize, it wouldn’t be fair. But a lot of people who say “what about the vets?” seem to be hopping on a political bandwagon, have never mentioned a single thing about homeless vets before Obama’s announcement, and/or don’t do anything to help, yet expect other people to.
Helping refugees has an established process while veteran homelessness is a complex issue. Saying that we can’t help one unless we help the other is ignorant and illogical because the US isn’t taking in refugees because they’re homeless – we’re taking them in because people are trying to murder them.
The worst part about making this argument is that it can be applied to any other government-funded agency. Why are we funding the postal service if there are still homeless vets? I mean, homelessness is more important than receiving your copy of the newspaper on your doorstep every morning, right? Shall we boycott USPS now?
Okay, you say, but why are there still so many homeless vets?
There isn’t a simple answer.
I decided to speak with Master Sergeant Joseph Kuhn USMC Retired, who served for 22 years from 1978 to 2000. Joe, who also happens to be my (step) uncle, has worked with veterans as part of community outreach programs and is familiar with the difficult transitioning period after returning home.
After speaking with him, it looks like there’s a common theme: veterans have difficulty reaching out for help and finding the right resources.
Possibility #1: The VA isn’t all that great
The US Department of Veterans Affairs is responsible for administering programs of benefits for veterans, their families and survivors, but many vets don’t agree with how it’s run.
(Seriously, go check out how many politicial cartoons there are about the VA.)
On April 30, 2014, 40 US Armed Forces veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix, Arizona Veterans Health Administration facilities. A few months later, an internal VA audit found that more than 120,000 veterans were left waiting or never got care. Schedulers were pressured to use unofficial lists to make waiting times seem less lengthy.
Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff reported “significant and chronic system failures” and a “corrosive culture” inside the Veterans Health Administration.
Then, in February 2015, CBS News found thousands of vets’ benefit claims discarded.
The VA hasn’t exactly had the best reputation and they don’t seem to be redeeming themselves too well. Joe spoke firsthand about his own experiences with the agency.
When he returned home in 2000, he had two discs removed in his cervical spine and two artificial discs were put in place. At this point, the doctors said his disability rate was at 60%. In 2006, he filed some paperwork to the VA to schedule a second surgery since the first one didn’t heal correctly. had to get a second surgery in 2006 because the first one didn’t heal correctly. The VA said they had to re-evaluate him for his disability.
They rated him at around 50% this time — lower than before, so he appealed the decision. The VA just sent him back to the same doctors. During this time, Joe’s back was in excruciating pain and he could barely lift his arms.
18 months later, Joe eventually was bumped up to a disability rating of 80% and received the pay he deserved.
“It’s another overblown government agency that lost sight of what their mission is and what they’re supposed to be doing,” Joe says. “It’s a pain, but it’s worth going through. You have to take advantage of the benefits you have.”
Possibility #2: PTSD stops people from reaching out for help
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can occur after a traumatic event where one thinks that their life or others’ lives are in danger. During the event, the person may not feel that they have control over what is happening. Much of it has to do with the fear of their safety being compromised.
“[My friend] did two tours overseas, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan before he got out. He’s gone through three jobs, he’s got four kids, but he refused to get help,” Joe says. “He kept losing his jobs because of PTSD, depression and anxiety. He was afraid that there was going to be a stigma attached to it.”
According to Veterans and PTSD, there common problems associated with PTSD are drinking and substance abuse, feeling shame and hopelessness, employment difficulties, and relationship adjustment problems. Untreated PTSD could lead to increased drug use, suicide, or potential homelessness.
Possibility #3: There is no pay after discharge unless you were injured
Unless you were injured in some way during your deployment, you do not receive any sort of pay after you come home. The only source of income after is disability pay.
You have to be at least 10% injured to receive disability, according to the Veterans Benefits Association.
If you are 10% injured and single without children or dependents, you can receive up to $133.17 per month. The disability money is meant to help cover extra living costs, such as making homes more accessible for people with wheelchairs.
“Get rated for any injuries or anything you suffered. Even if you get rated a zero, if it gets worse a few years later, you can get re-rated and start getting paid disability,” Joe advises.
Possibility #4: The transition back to civilian life is difficult
“Being in the military is a different world,” Joe explains. “There are no gray areas. Everything is cut and dry – rules and regulations are put in place so you know exactly what you can and cannot do. In a way, it’s helpful.”
Possibility #5: Many become victims of alcohol and/or substance abuse
According to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, 70% of veterans have substance abuse problems. Substance abuse may be a result of PTSD as aforementioned.
Possibility #6: There aren’t as many homeless vets as you may think
The NCHV admits that it’s hard to measure how many homeless vets there are in the US, and even though they can estimate that there are about 50,000 are homeless people every night, it is possible that some may be using the veteran title to gain more sympathy from passersby.
Possibility #7: Important legislature gets denied
Here, I just compiled some denied bills that didn’t even make it out of the House and Senate. These would have benefitted homeless veterans directly. I can only hope that they will be reintroduced soon.
– February 2014: Legislation that would have expanded federal healthcare and education programs for veterans got blocked, claiming that the $24 billion bill would exceed the budget.
– September 2012: The Veterans Job Corps Act of 2012 that would have spent $1 billion over five years to put veterans to work tending to federal lands and in the nation’s police and fire departments.
– September 2012: VA announced that at least one senator was holding up a bill which would provide a cost of living adjustment (COLA) on benefits for disabled veterans and the spouses and children of deceased veterans.
– February 2011: Blocked funding on 10,000 new housing vouchers for homeless veterans this fiscal year. Congress has passed this every year since 2008.
– June 2009: Wounded Veteran Job Security Act got blocked, which would have provided job security for veterans who are receiving medical treatment for injuries suffered while fighting in defense of the US, also prohibiting employers from terminating employees who miss work to receive treatment.
– July 2009: Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act would have increased the amount paid by the VA to disabled veterans for the necessary home structural improvements. For example, if a veteran lost the use of his legs during combat, the US would pay for the wheelchair ramp so that he can live at home. The cost of this bill would have been $20 million, estimated to be about 25 cents per family of four.
“I worked with the Wounded Warriors for about three years, and I’ll tell you – they were well-adjusted because they did seek attention,” Joe says. “People who get out and aren’t going home aren’t reaching out.”
The biggest problem is that people aren’t reaching out and taking advantage of their benefits, or have dealt with programs that aren’t very helpful.
However, there are non-governmental agencies, organizations and programs that are designed to help. Veterans Inc. is the largest provider and only emergency, drug- and alcohol-free shelter for veterans and families in New England with more than 250 beds. They offer housing, counseling, employment services, job training, family programs, transportation, food services, and childcare services.
“If you get out and can’t find a job, go to school,” Joe says, referring to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits, generally payable for 15 years following one’s release from active duty. Monthly housing allowance and annual books and supplies stipend may also be included. This way, you could get your Bachelor’s degree in whatever you want and take time to save money and find a career.
If you want to help the homeless veterans, then volunteer and spread awareness about the programs that aim to help. Maybe reach out to a veteran or deployed person you know and make sure they’re doing OK. Especially educate yourself on whom you’re voting for, because politicians have a lot to say about available programs.
Last week, we didn’t want to take in Syrian refugees because Syrians = ISIS, even though we’ve had thousands of refugees in the US (but people conveniently don’t address that). This week, it’s about helping our own, though I could swear that a week ago, people didn’t preach about the homeless as often as they are now.
It seems that people are reaching for any excuse they can think of because they are afraid to admit that there is no real reason.