For those of you who know me, you might be surprised that after a year away from blogging, I decided to jump back in with a post about Veteran’s Day. Politics aside –don’t mistake my anti-war beliefs as an anti-veteran stance.
I am the proud daughter of a Vietnam Veteran who continues to advocate for the needs of all veterans through his ‘volunteer’ work as the Chairman of the American Legion War Memorial Commission and Vice Commander of Cathay Post. He has worked with the Commission to preserve the San Francisco War Memorial so that it continues to provide services to US veterans of all wars. Just as importantly, his work with Cathay post advocates for the recognition and acknowledgement of the work and sacrifice of Asian and Pacific Islander soldiers in all wars.
As we take the day to acknowledge veterans, I find myself a bit perplexed. For the past year and a half, I have worked on a number of projects that taught me a lot about the post-war experiences of veterans –particularly around the issues of homelessness and mental health. I look at the statistics and I ask myself –how do we truly honor veterans? Ignoring the needs of military men ,women, and their families, who voluntarily sacrifice their lives in support of our country is a violent act –one that each of us should be committed to improving if we truly want to support Veterans.
Here are just a few facts and statistics that trouble me:
DEMOGRAPHICS OF HOMELESS VETERANS (usich.gov)
- 13% of the homeless adult population are veterans
- 20% of the male homeless population are veterans
- 68% reside in principal cities (e.g. Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC)
- 32% reside in suburban/rural areas
- 51% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities
- 50% have serious mental illness
- 70% have substance abuse problems
- 50% are age 51 or older, compared to 19% non-veterans
- According to the Housing and Urban Development Department’s 2011 Homeless Assessment Report 67,495 Veterans experienced homelessness on the night of the annual homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) count for January 2011[i] (This count may be low because it only reflects the one-night when the survey occurred.)
- The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that 22 veterans commit suicide every day! This is a conservative estimate –the data used excludes California, Texas and Illinois who are the first, second, and fifth largest states with veteran populations. The numbers are most likely higher. That is almost 1 death per hour!
- According to a 2008 RAND study, nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans screen positive for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression.[ii]
- The same study found that about 19 percent of troops surveyed report a probable Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) during deployment. It is unclear what the long term effects of TBI are on veterans because the symptoms are often hard to distinguish from PTSD.
While I could continue to list off a bunch of statistics I am going to stop here. If we are truly going to honor veterans on Veteran’s Day —it’s time that we start working to help preserve and improve their quality of life. We pay billions of dollars to profiteering, multi-national corporations who build weapons –but we fail to provide an adequate budget to care for our veterans. While I’ve focused on mental health and homelessness, I think it is also important to note that we fail to pay our current enlisted soldiers a living wage so that they can support their families. How is this right?
So this Veteran’s Day, if you want to honor Veteran’s and thank them for service –get educated on the issues. Honor our Veterans by helping educate your fellow citizens on the real sacrifices soldiers make when they choose to defend our country.