Those who interact with homeless people will not be surprised to learn than one in four is a veteran. The fact that a disproportionate number of vets are homeless - vets compose about 11 percent of the total U.S. population - underscores several unpleasant truths.
A new study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a nonprofit group, has released these findings, which are based on data from the Veterans Affairs Department and the U.S. Census Bureau, which estimated in 2005 that 194,254 homeless people out of 744,313 on any given night were veterans.
What is perhaps most disturbing, some say, is that many of the newly homeless are veterans of Afghanistan and the latest Iraq war. It took about a decade for homelessness among Vietnam War veterans to become widely apparent. Seeing so many veterans of recent wars now is alarming, they say.
"We're going to be having a tsunami of them eventually because the mental-health toll from this war is enormous," Daniel Tooth, director of veterans affairs for Lancaster County, Pa., told the Associated Press.
In the last 20 years, the VA has improved the breadth and efficacy of its work to help homeless vets. The VA spends about $265 million annually on programs to help homeless vets, plus $1.5 billion for their health care.
But more should be done, advocates say. The National Alliance to End Homelessness is urging Congress to fund an additional 25,000 units for the chronically homeless, and it suggests an additional 20,000 housing vouchers for homeless vets, AP reports.
This would cost billions. The price of ignoring this, however, is a piece of our soul.
On Sunday, the nation will observe Veterans Day. There will be sincere expressions of gratitude for those who risked and lost limbs and lives when duty called. That is good, but a nation's gratitude shouldn't be expressed primarily through "Support the Troops" bumper stickers and the ritualized "thanks" traditionally tendered when the guns fell silent - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
Supporting the troops would mean not sending them to war on the basis of a pretext and with a plan amounting to wishful thinking. Supporting the troops would mean asking the nation to make the sacrifices to pay for that war, rather than saddling yet-unborn children with the cost. Supporting the troops would mean remembering that one of war's many horrendous costs is the damage to the soldiers' psyches.
The nation should provide adequate care, treatment and assistance for those who stand and serve. On the streets, it is clear, that bill is coming due.
Clint Talbott, for the editorial board
© 2007 The Daily Camera