Helping Our Homeless Vets

You see them almost every day along the highway, under overpasses, passed out on stoops and living in camps and fields. Wearing dirty clothes, looking down-trodden and often begging for handouts, many homeless men and women today once proudly wore our nation’s military uniforms.

Unless you’ve strapped on their boots, wore their uniform and saw what they have seen, I would ask you to look again at our homeless veterans. How is it that individuals who gave so much for the American people are given back so little in return?

Homeless veterans carry with them every day the scars of war and battle on their bodies and in their minds. Many have found that returning to a quiet and normal life as a civilian is a challenge greater than they can accomplish alone.

I. Homeless veterans first need to be identified as such. You cannot look at an individual on the street and tell whether or not he or she is a veteran. Someone will have to drive to where the homeless veterans are and then get out among them and interview them. Chances are they will not have much identification they can produce and surely they won’t be able to show you their D.O.D 214 Form. The interviewer will probably have to take notes and verify their veteran status at a later date. But with a little knowledge about the military, an interviewer should be able to come away from the meeting with a pretty good idea of whether or not the homeless person once served.

II. Homeless vets need a place where they can get off the streets and out of the weather. One option is halfway house where they can get cleaned up, have a physical address and a message phone. Clean clothes and warm beds can be donated. The halfway house will need rules concerning weapons, behavior and the use of drugs and alcohol.

III. Vets will need transportation to food shelters, job interviews, the VA and counseling sessions, so a reliable van is a necessity.

IV. They will need an advocate to help them navigate the application processes for the counseling, medical and disability benefits they are entitled to. An emphasis on counseling must be a top priority. Vets unable to return to civilian life and adjust may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Group counseling for these eterans appears to be a healing form of therapy. Coming to grips with the horrors of war which they may have witnessed or participated in is a reality best not kept inside to grow and fester.

V. All veterans, homeless or not, need to understand that while their government may not always seem to care much about them after their tours of duty have ended, the American people and the citizens in the countries where they have served are grateful. Veterans need to feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments as soldiers, airman and seaman. Many homeless vets could also benefit from acknowledging and seeking out a higher, spiritual being.