Veterans: The War After The War

woman veteranNow that the last American combat soldier has walked across the desert out of Iraq, and the Obama administration seems poised to end our military involvement in Afghanistan over howls from the military’s brass and war machine manufacturers, the question returns: What now for the men and women who fought those wars in our name?

Older combat veterans know, and younger veterans and their loved ones are finding out, that the battle for how to live out the rest of your life begins after you’ve come home and taken off your uniform for the last time, with your wounds, memories of your fallen comrades, and the agitation that makes a full night’s sleep difficult without drink or drug long after the last firefight.

So the veterans who gathered at the California Democratic Party‘s Veterans Caucus meeting last week in San Diego were eager to find out what California’s political leaders might do about the alarming rates of homelessness, unemployment, suicide, and disability among the state’s veterans.

LA’s the Homeless Capital for Veterans, Too

“We have unprecedented levels of homeless veterans in California,” acknowledged California State Assembly Speaker John Perez, who convened the Democratic Party’s meeting and who represents an impoverished district near downtown Los Angeles. “My district has among the highest levels of homelessness in California.”

Nationwide, an estimated 76,000 veterans are homeless on a given night, with 130,000 spending at least one night in a homeless shelter, a growing number of them women veterans, according to David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times:

“Veterans make up 8% of the U.S. population, but almost 16% of homeless adults. Half of all homeless veterans suffer from mental illness, and two-thirds are substance abusers.”

john perez

Assembly Speaker John Perez

In Los Angeles County, about 7,400 veterans are homeless, including “about 1,415 veterans considered to be chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for at least a year and suffer from a serious health issue, mental illness or addiction.”

In San Diego County, home to a huge US Navy presence and just down the road from the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton, 35%, or 3,000, of the county’s 8,500 homeless are veterans.

Speaker Perez announced that the Assembly has taken $2 million out of its operating budget to help returning veterans, especially those from the California National Guard, admittedly a drop in the bucket with so many veterans living on our streets.

“We’re also integrating discussions about veteran homelessness and what to do about it in all our committees, not just the Veterans Committee,” continued Perez, who had been invited by Caucus Chair Rick Reyes to keynote the meeting. “Those dealing with housing, education, and labor need to be part of the conversation, too.”

Developing LA’s National Home for Veterans

During the Veterans Caucus meeting, Joe Halper of the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club presented a resolution calling for the Department of Veterans Affairs to devote its 387-acre compound in West Los Angeles for its intended purpose of serving disabled veterans, which might then put a dent in the County’s homeless veterans property. The resolution was overwhelming approved and quickly gathered endorsements by a number of elected Democrats representing West LA.

The resolution attempts to resolve an ongoing battle to return the sprawling hospital campus and renovate its dilapidated buildings for their originally intended use of rehabilitating and housing veterans, rather than being leased for use as “a public golf course, a college baseball stadium, a theatre and practice fields for the exclusive private Brentwood School.”At one point, 4,000 veterans were housed at that facility, but are now barred from entering it.

bob filner

San Diego Congressman Bob Filner

A Veteran Commits Suicide Every 80 Minutes

“More Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than the 55,000 who were killed in combat,” said Bob Filner, the 10-term congressman who capped the evening’s meeting. “The same is true for today’s two wars, which haven’t even completely ended.”

According to Filner, who is running to be San Diego’s mayor, “The official count is more than 5,000 service members killed and more than 40,000 wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. But more than 1 million veterans have come to the VA for help -— mostly with traumatic brain injuries. That’s not a rounding error.”

Compounding the problems veterans face is the difficult job market, as studies indicate a strong correlation between joblessness and suicide.

Currently, for younger veterans aged 18 to 24, who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, their unemployment rate is 30.4%, up from 18.4% a year earlier, compared to 15.3% for non veterans of the same age.

“When soldiers leave the military, they lose what service provides: purpose, focus, achievement, responsibility and…“belongingness,”” according to Peter D. Kramer, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University. “The workplace can be stressful, but especially for the mentally vulnerable, there is no substitute for what jobs offer in the way of structure, support and meaning.”

To deal with these issues, Filner had advocated for a GI Bill for the 21st Century to get today’s veterans into the workforce the way their fathers and grandfathers did after earlier wars.

“Millions of World War II veterans went to college on the GI Bill and millions more bought houses with VA loans. That created the middle class in America,” Filner said. “Why can’t we do the same thing for today’s veterans?”

Filner also said that, if elected mayor, he would open a veterans’ office right in city hall and advised the Veterans Affairs Department to grant relief to the 100,000 Vietnam veterans who have applied for Agent Orange care, rather than letting them die off, as seems to be the plan.

dick pricePledging to focus the Veterans Caucus on jobs, housing, and homelessness this year, Caucus Chair Rick Reyes concluded the evening on a hopeful note.

But the outcome of the battle over the National Veterans Home in Brentwood will be a bellwether. If something good comes out of that controversy for veterans, we’ll know the meeting was worth the drive down to San Diego. If not, we’ll know it’s just more politicos running up to the microphone boasting how much they “support the troops.”

Until, you know, something else comes along.

Dick Price
Editor, LA Progressive 

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Comments

  1. Jessica Jackson says

    To Mr. Dick Price,

    I wanted to thank you for the article you wrote entitled “Veterans: The War After the War” that posted February 20th.  My brother serves in the U.S. Army, but fortunately he has not suffered the fate of other Veterans that all too often end up traumatized and living on the streets.  My brother is a drummer in the U.S. Army band, but he’s a soldier none the less.  He went through the same boot camp, served a year in Iraq, and served his country by doing his military duties as well as providing morale for other troops with his music.

    But not all people in the service are so fortunate.  My brother Steve had a wife waiting for him when he came home and a job to do when he came back to the states.  But for others who aren’t fortunate enough to have a loving family waiting for them, or for those who have seen so much horror on their tours that they can’t seem to re-adjust to “normal” civilian life, the story doesn’t have such a happy ending.

    There is so much stigma around mental illness and the homeless, and your article drew attention to this issue.  You honor our men and women in the military by bringing awareness to the need for effective job placement and mental health services for those who are returning to civilian life.  We do need to invest our tax dollars in rehabilitation.  Providing basic housing for veterans suffering from severe mental illness is the least we can do for the sacrifices they’ve made. While my brother says there are services available to those coming back from tour, he’s not sure if these programs are truly effective or just look better from the surface.  There is a definite need to investigate why these existing programs aren’t being as effective as we’d like, and what more we can be doing.

    I never fully appreciated the sacrifices made by our military men and women before my brother joined the army, and I’m so proud of him and all of our troops who give up a portion of their lives, and even their mental health, to serve our country.  Thank you for drawing attention to this important subject.

    - Jessica Jackson

  2. says

    Dear Mr. Price,

    I read your very thorough article
    discussing veterans and the tragedies they now face.

    And, what awaits our young men
    and women who fought so hard – and willingly in the past current wars of
    Afghanistan and Iraq will not be a pretty picture.

    There is another group of
    Americans who “served” although in an unconventional way and who have
    been forgotten, denied over and over for help. Their human rights along with
    the rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act denied and overlooked.

    I am one of those Americans.

    I traveled to Vietnam in 1970
    under the sponsorship of the US Department of Army with the USO for a Christmas
    Handshaking Tour with then celebrity Johnny Grant. I was an 18 year old
    innocence American girl.

    In 1990, I developed a soft tissue
    sarcoma cancer – one of the primary VA Presumed Diseases caused by exposure to
    Agent Orange. From that cancer, I suffered and scarified five internal organs
    changing my life forever at the age of 38 years old.

    In 2009, I learned of the
    connection to the trip to Vietnam, my unknown exposure to AO and the cancer I
    developed from that extensive exposure.

    In 2010, I was diagnosed with
    leukemia from the AO exposure. In 2011, I was diagnosed with lymphoma.

    It was determined I was a federal
    employee with the right to file for a Worker’s Compensation claim under the
    FECA ACT. I have been denied and denied the compensation due me as a federal
    employee —– with the insurmountable burden of proof placed on me.

    Unlike the veterans who can file
    if they were in Vietnam during a certain time frame and have developed the
    cancers on the presumptive list – they qualify — no questions asked.

    Is this right? There are not many
    of us who went as young volunteers with open hearts to support
    our soldiers in time of a unfavorable war – we need help and the government has
    turned their back on us.

    I have tried media, left, right
    and center no one wants to cover this. I have tried Congress – including Rep.
    Bob Filner (he stated, “if you were there we will help you.”) I never received
    a letter in response to my reaching out – I, too am a Californian.

    I believe this to be a travesty
    and injustice to those of us who of gave.

    I may not have worn the uniform of
    a serviceman – but, I wore the uniform of an American.

    I have been left behind as
    collateral damage of the Vietnam War.

    Thank you,

    Sincerely,

    Lesli Moore Dahlke

    lesli@alossofinnocence.com

    http://www.alossofinnocence.com

     

  3. marie says

    How many of all those people who claim they support our military-people, are going to do something like organizing a mass-demonstration of protest, to regain those grounds that were once given for our veterans and then stolen away by the big-shots for their own comfort of a golf-course?

  4. Joe Weinstein says

    And Marie understates. How many of those vets, when enlisting, felt they had any viable alternative options – for present or future – in the USA civilian economy? In the wonderful new outsourced-away globalized-away automated-away union-busted civilian economy.

  5. PaulC1958 says

    What are California Democrats going to do for vets leaving the service? Simple answer to a very simple question. NOTHING! They are too busy coming up with new was to give tax dollars to illegal aliens so businesses can have cheap labor and they can get Hispanic votes! Republicans on the other hand are only concerned about the cheap illegal alien labor!

    • Mike C says

      Paul, you have really mastered the nuance of Mr. Price’s article, and cut to the chase. Yes, it is, in fact, as you suspect, always about illegal aliens, isn’t it?

      By the time that PaulC1958 and those like him come around to the realization that traumatized and highly stressed veterans need time and occasionally assistance to re-enter the civilian world, perhaps the sheer numbers of veterans will be reduced – through despair, loneliness, suicide, and sickness.

      Keep fighting the good fight, brother

      Mike

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