The story below appeared in newspapers around the U.S. today. What a sad commentary this is on our treatment of veterans, some of whom have physical or emotional scars. I remember about twenty years ago when a WWII veteran froze to death on a park bench across the street from the White House. It was later discovered he was a highly decorated war hero.
"WASHINGTON - Lonnie Bowen Jr. was once a social worker, but for 17 years the Vietnam war veteran has slept on the streets off and on as he's battled substance abuse and mental health problems."It's been a hard struggle," said Bowen, 62, as he rolled a cigarette outside a homeless processing center in downtown Philadelphia, where he planned to seek help for his drug and alcohol problem, as he has before.Every night, hundreds of thousands of veterans like Bowen are without a home.
Veterans make up one in four homeless people in the United States, though they are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to a report to be released today by the Alliance to End Homelessness, a public education nonprofit group.
And homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are trickling into shelters and soup kitchens seeking services, treatment or help finding a job.The Department of Veterans Affairs has identified 1,500 homeless veterans from the current wars and says 400 have participated in its programs targeting homelessness.The Alliance to End Homelessness based the findings of its report on numbers from Veterans Affairs and the Census Bureau.
In 2005, it was estimated that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans. In comparison, the VA says that 20 years ago, the estimated number of veterans who were homeless on any given night was 250,000.Some advocates say an early presence of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at shelters does not bode well for the future.
It took roughly a decade for the lives of Vietnam veterans to unravel to the point that they started showing up among the homeless. Advocates worry that intense and repeated deployments leave newer veterans particularly vulnerable."We're going to be having a tsunami of them eventually because the mental health toll from this war is enormous," said Daniel Tooth, director of veterans affairs for Lancaster County, Pa.While services for homeless veterans have improved in the past 20 years, advocates say more financial resources are needed. With the spotlight on the plight of Iraq veterans, they hope more will be done to prevent homelessness and provide affordable housing to the younger veterans while there's an opportunity."When the Vietnam War ended, that was part of the problem. The war was over, it was off TV, nobody wanted to hear about it," said John Keaveney, a Vietnam veteran and a founder of New Directions in Los Angeles, which gives veterans help with substance abuse, job training and shelter.
"I think they'll be forgotten," Keaveney said of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. "People get tired of it. It's not glitzy that these are young, honorable, patriotic Americans. They'll just be veterans, and that happens after every war."
Historically, a number of fighters in U.S. wars have become homeless. In the post-Civil War era, homeless veterans sang old Army songs to dramatize their need for work and became known as "tramps," which had meant to march into war, said Todd DePastino, a historian at Penn State University's Beaver campus who wrote a book on the history of homelessness.After World War I, thousands of veterans — many of them homeless — camped in the nation's capital seeking bonus money. Their camps were destroyed by the government, creating a public relations disaster for President Herbert Hoover.The end of the Vietnam War coincided with a time of economic restructuring, and many of the people who fought in Vietnam were also those most affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs, DePastino said."