Currently there are roughly some 500,000 homeless veterans throughout the United States. A little over half of them are forced to sleep outside each night due to the lack of available VA sponsored transitional shelter facilities geared toward helping homeless veterans regain a foothold in society.
Yesterday I wrote about a veteran who had been homeless when I first met him. I talked about the breakdown of his relationship and the adverse effects that is having on him. But, there are other homeless veterans for whom homelessness is also taking its toll.
Other than for food and shelter, veterans who become homeless are less likely to seek assistance with their homelessness than homeless non-veterans. Among combat veterans this lack of actively seeking assistance is higher. As a result many veterans suffer the indignities of homelessness do so in absolute silence. Some will not even tell anyone that they are a veteran. This is due in part to the very training which turned them into warriors.
Although homeless veterans now have more federally funded programs to assist them with their transition back into society, many of them are unaware of these programs. Many who could benefit from these programs have had "bad experiences" with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the past and have given up trying to get help. This is because until recently the resources available to help homeless veterans were limited. This lack of resources was due to lack of funding at the federal level.
To further complicate matters, many combat veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were incorrectly diagnosed, or their PTSD wasn’t recognized. In fact, PTSD just within the last number of years began to be recognized as a genuine disability – one that requires treatment if a veteran is going to be able to function within society again after their discharge.
Homeless veterans who suffer PTSD, are often times diagnosed as anti-social or as being reclusive. This in turn makes them feel even more ostracized from society. The result is that these veterans find themselves moving further outward toward the extreme periphery of society – thereby distancing themselves from the resources that could help them.
To make matters worse, due to bureaucratic red tape, those veterans who do seek help find themselves wallowing in a sea of paperwork that makes it even difficult for them to receive benefits. This causes many of them to simply give up trying to get help.
Here in San Luis Obispo, I’ve met a number of homeless veterans who have become so embittered toward society and, because of past "bad experiences" with the VA, will probably spend the rest of their lives homeless.
They were trained to survive war. Now they face the greatest battle of their lives. And, sadly they will face it alone.
Shouldn’t we as a society be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this to happen?