During and after the Civil War, homeless veterans wandered the streets of almost every town, nearly naked and starving. Their poor, gaunt bodies were found huddled from the cold in doorways, sprawled in back alleys, or in gutters of large towns. These men who had faced down death in immeasurable ways, fighting for their country, no matter the side, were left to die alone and afraid.
Surely that doesn’t happen today. Or does it? Today homeless veterans wander our streets, many not receiving even the barest necessities. In a country that involves its troops, the majority of them young men, in wars all over the planet to protect the rights of others, it’s appalling how we fail to meet the needs of those returning veterans.
In my opinion, much of the problem stems from what took place in this country a few decades ago, when it was decided that even though a person was suffering from debilitating mental illness, they had the right to be free. Civil liberties law gained momentum in the 70’s and made it difficult if not impossible for judges to commit patients who relapsed but refused care. Those discharged from state hospitals were often caught in a revolving door. They were left free to wander the streets and starve or die some sort of early death. At one time we cared for the mentally ill, but today we do not, simply because of this ridiculous twist of so-called Human Rights.
This is one of the main reasons for all homelessness, not just that of our veterans. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the majority of our homeless veterans are young and single; live in urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. I would suppose it is their right to be free (homeless), rather than being taken care of as we do people with other illnesses. Most do not have the ability to consent to care and treatment. How tragic that such a law could be twisted until it brings about this situation in a country that takes better care of murderers, rapists and other law breakers than it does its homeless veterans.
HUD estimates that 62,619 veterans are homeless on any given night. About 1.4 million other veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. Most of these men are young, the majority under thirty.
Being out of work and homeless is bad enough, but being a veteran with mental illness or hopeless addiction with no place to get help is worse than tragic, it is deplorable. And to think that these men, many of whom put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms, are left to wander until they are found dead in dark alleys, under overpasses or in abandoned houses.
You’d think we’d have learned something in 150 years.
Know that one phone call can be the difference in the life of a Veteran who is homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Make the Call to 877-4AID-VET (424-3838) to be connected 24/7 with VA’s services to overcome or prevent homelessness for yourself or a Veteran you know.
Read this article, Out of the asylum, into the cell.