Veterans with No Where to Call Home
By: John Waltz
Special Assignment Writer
Right now as you read this article there are at least 200,000 veterans who do not have a home to go to. Which according to national statistics makes it one in every three homeless adult males is a veteran. Desperate and wondering the streets wondering where their next meal is going to come from. In an average year though, the estimate jumps up to around 400,000 homeless veterans. The amount of males is 40% while the female homeless veteran population is only 4%. Mental illness and substance abuse is very prevalent among the veteran homeless population. In the veteran homeless community you will find 45% are mentally ill and over 50% are abusing substances. Homelessness is a very unfortunate situation for many veterans who once fought for this country and sacrificed everything. So, how did our fellow brothers and sisters become homeless?
The question itself is hard to answer, but there are many angles that you can take on the issue. A veteran who is suffering from mental illness (especially post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)) will usually have trouble keeping a job. Add this to the common coping mechanism of substance abuse and the veteran starts slipping through the cracks. Since there is such a huge stigma about PTSD many do not believe that veterans suffer from it and therefore are treated much differently than their civilian counterparts. Many are considered to be misfits who have no grasp on reality. PTSD is a disability and should be treated as such, especially when it comes to reasonable disability accommodations. PTSD is a real mental illness recognized by the mental health community and should be treated with a high sense of importance. The VA also discriminates against veterans with PTSD which makes getting a claim approved nearly impossible.
During the time it takes to wade through the red tape and bureaucracy the veteran is already financially drowning. Faced with mounting bills and no money to pay their rent or mortgage they eventually end up on the streets. There needs to be some fundamental change to the claim process such as better training, more workers and better research on PTSD and mental illness so that these claims can be handled quickly and competently. There are programs that can help homeless veterans but there needs to be a better focus on making sure that all veterans know about these programs. This approach would require the VA to reach out and assist veterans. It is a current policy for the VA not to advertise benefits and programs. This policy results in veterans not receiving much needed treatment therefore this practice needs to be changed.
The Department of Labor has a program called the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) which will make available services to aid in reintegrating homeless veterans into meaningful employment within the labor force. This program is designed to motivate the expansion of successful service delivery systems that will address the intricate tribulations facing homeless veterans. This is a little known program to homeless veterans but if they can get involved in the program it is effective. Recently on November 13, 2006 the VA announced grants for homeless veterans. http://www.dol.gov/vets/programs/hvrp/hvrp-bp.htm
These grants were to assist veterans with greater access to assistance. "Only through a dedicated partnership with community and faith-based organizations can we hope to end homelessness among veterans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson. "Veterans answered their country's call to serve during its greatest times of need, and now some live without shelter. This grant will help them get back on the road to self-reliance." The grants will go to 52 service providers at a value of $11.6 million. This will bring up the total number of community based beds to more than 10,000 which are run by public and community non-profit and faith based organizations. In the house and senate there are bills that have been introduced and two that has recently been passed.
Senate bill S.3421 has passed which will include a stipulation that permanently permits the VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD), with appropriations of $130 million for FY 2007 and every year thereafter. This will also make way for the VA to go ahead with key construction plans across the country, get better mental health care admittance and will also add $65 million to boost the amount of clinicians who treat PTSD. There was also another bill passed recently that will hopefully help in getting our veterans off the streets. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s109-3421
Included in this bill you will find that Title V of S. 2694 will be a landmark in the first of efforts to endorse comprehensive homeless veterans’ assistance legislation. The congress has a goal to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2011 so they still have a lot of work ahead of them. In this bill it will improve service for homeless veterans and also assist in put a stop to the never-ending homeless issue. Coming in the next session of Congress and the Senate there are two bills that will assist the homeless veterans substantially. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s109-2694
One bill that is going to be discussed in the next session is S. 1991, Services to Prevent Veterans Homelessness Act. This will provide financial assistance to eligible entities (private non-profit organizations or consumer cooperatives) to grant and manage the stipulation of a variety of accommodating services for very low income veteran families occupying permanent housing. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s109-1991
The Sheltering All Veterans Everywhere Act Reauthorization Act of 2005 (S. 1180) will extend the current version to 2011. It will also give the authorization for appropriations for VA’s wide-ranging services for homeless veterans, the homeless veterans’ reintegration program, and a grant program for homeless veterans with special needs, and the Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans. http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s109-1180
As you can see it appears that the politicians are concerned over the homeless veterans. The only issue I have is that if there has been a sweeping reform plan going on for over five years then why has the numbers of homeless veterans reduced? Our homeless veterans deserve shelter and all the help that they can get. Write your Senator or Congressman and tell them to support the initiatives in this article and that you are concerned about the population of homeless veterans not going down despite reforms.
Another innovative concept that has been introduced by Operation Firing For Effect (OFFE), a grassroots veterans rights organization, is trying to obtain trailers using veteran’s preference from FEMA that were left over from the 2005 hurricane season. In total there is 9,778 unused mobile homes deteriorating at an airfield in Hope, Arkansas because of zoning restrictions within the flood plains of New Orleans. Back in May of 2006 Gene Simes who is the OFFE National Chairman wrote letters to President Bush requesting two of these remaining mobile homes to be awarded to two eligible homeless combat veterans. In his letter he stressed the dire nature of the increasing homeless population among veterans. In a prior article by Richard Townsend it stated, Gene Simes says he is currently in contact with FEMA officials about his May request to President Bush. “We are going to keep a very close eye on the distribution of these homes,” Simes said. “Operation Firing For Effect and our supporters will be doing everything we can to insure that our homeless veterans have priority and that a large number of these government surplus trailers are awarded to needy veterans or direct family members of veterans,” Simes stated. “We expect our former military personnel and their families to be given the first opportunity for awards of these homes,” Simes added. Mr. Simes has already networked with labor unions to establish the logistics required to transport and setup the mobile homes once they are on site. Hopefully, OFFE can obtain these two trailers donated which will increase the possibility of getting more approved for homeless veterans. http://jerebeery.com/OFFE%20Eyeing%20FEMA%20Mobile%20Homes.htm http://offe2008.net/
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