By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva.
Veterans of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) face a difficult challenge. They have deployed, served, and fought, only to return home to a poor economy, a stingy job market, changed family conditions, and open debate about regarding the war, their service, and their struggles. This generation of Veterans is subjected to high levels of documented mental strain, instances of substance abuse, suicide and homelessness.
In Fiscal year 2013, the VA estimated that there were almost 50,000 Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were either homeless or receiving aid from government programs designed to prevent homelessness among Veterans. The VA also estimates that they spend $300 million each year to aid homeless Veterans and prevent Veterans from becoming homeless.
I am not a combat Vet. I was never wounded or subjected to the extremes that my comrades who were boots on ground faced. Being a GI Bill college graduate, I am considered a success story. But even I still struggle.
I am not the same man that I was before I enlisted into the Navy. And I am not the same man that I was when I separated from the Navy in 2009. The past four and a half years have changed me almost as much as my five years of service did.
During my first year as a civilian, a young guy in his early 20’s approached me in a grocery store parking lot, asking for change, claiming that he was a homeless Veteran. As I remember that encounter, at the time I was doubtful as to whether or not he was a Veteran. But either way, I am not proud of the way that I denied him.
I told him, “Shame on you. If you are a Vet, you should be better than this.”
To this day, I still believe that he was an imposter. But I think if that same young man approached me in 2014, while I still would not give him money, I would not leave him until telling him about programs for homeless Veterans.
Civilian life, including employment rejection, has humbled me. I used to be quick and confident when answering “No” to questions like, “Are you experiencing depression?” While I still answer in the negative, I tend to pause before answering, and am not as confident in my answer as I was in 2009.
I am not depressed. I have taken several self-evaluations and they have all confirmed that. But the fact that I took any at all, let alone four, tells you that I don’t feel like my old self. Every Veteran has the potential to feel down, or as though they are not living up to their potential. And while I have not been subjected to severe unemployment or homelessness, I still struggle with motivation and my sense of worth. So I can see the potential for Veterans who experienced the extreme conditions I didn’t to have a greater struggle than I do. And I now have sympathy for them.
The number of GWOT Veterans falling on hard times is increasing. The number homeless Veterans has tripled since 2011. With a little compassion for their service and struggle, and some education on how to help them, maybe we can reduce the number of Veterans who are homeless, who abuse drugs and alcohol, and who feel that they struggle alone.
Please provide homeless Veterans with the number for the VA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).