The Shame of America, Homeless Veterans

by lewwaters

Once again, we celebrate our Independence from Britain over 200 years ago. We will enjoy backyard barbecues, community picnics, fireworks displays or just a pleasant time enjoying friends and family, many people receiving the day off from work. We’ll hear speeches and thanks given out for why we are a free country, those few throughout our history who have stood in the fire to fight for and protect our freedoms.

Tomorrow, everything will return to normal, though. Forgotten by all too many will be the fleeting words of praise given to Veterans of all past wars as people return to business as usual and Veterans will be shoved off into the back corners of people’s minds until the next time a holiday rolls around and some politician feels they need to score a few points.

All too many really don’t care very much about the sacrifices of our Veterans and this can be readily seen in politicians and our media, who sees Veterans as little more than props to score points against an opponent or to sell newspapers or build ratings by flashy reports.

We claim deep respect and admiration for our Veterans and Military and many individuals actually do hold deep respect for them. But, all too many do not. To many we are little more than tools to promote their agenda. To others, we are damaged and something to be fearful of, afraid we may “go off” at any time.

I covered part of this years ago in the posts Veterans, Warriors and Heroes, not Victims and America’s Veterans, A Better Breed.

In spite of the occasional lip service given, too many Veterans still struggle seeking employment when they return to civilian life. Naturally, if they cannot find employment, they become homeless, living on the street.

It is refreshing the read a press release Labor Department Announces Grants to Train Homeless Vets from the Department of Defense saying, “The Labor Department today awarded 90 grants totaling more than $20 million to fund job training and support services that officials said will help more than 11,000 veterans succeed in civilian careers.”

Well meaning, I am sure, but it ignores the root causes of high unemployment and homelessness seen in today’s Veterans. Yes, we remain in deep economic recession and everybody is struggling, but unemployment amongst our Veterans remains well above that of civilian counterparts, sitting at 12.7% currently according to Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune and syndicated in the Olympian.

Huppke is right where he says “Veterans deserve [a] fair shake in [the] job market,” and in mentioning why Veterans are not receiving a fair shake, “a lack of preparedness for the transition to civilian life to an unwarranted concern by employers that all veterans carry psychological baggage that could lead to on-the-job problems.”

Even in his article he commits the very act that compels employers to shy away from Veterans when he quotes Texas-based psychiatrist Harry Croft saying, “it’s incumbent on employers to learn about PTSD and its symptoms. That will help them better understand what a veteran might be experiencing in day-to-day life,” and “companies should have someone available for veterans to speak with in confidence, preferably a person familiar with PTSD.”

Scant mention is made of Croft’s other words that PTSD “can range from mild to debilitating” or that only 20% of returning Iraq or Afghanistan Vets will suffer any PTSD symptoms at all.

Croft does mention speaking with HR people who say, “We want to hire these veterans, but we can’t ask if they have PTSD,” and “We’re worried that violence could erupt in the workplace or whether other employees could catch PTSD.”

Huppke stops well short of mentioning his own mediums culpability in why employers hold “an unwarranted concern,” as expressed from Croft.

Stop and think back over the years of this current war. Compare how many times you read or viewed reports of the heroic actions of our Troops compared to claims of atrocities or murderous acts of a few who may have served?

Our media has devoted many hours of broadcast time and pages of print informing of every time a veteran does wrong. But how often do you read of a Veteran’s actions saving someone? Or serving in his community in some charitable fashion?

Stories of the good acts of Veterans, that in reality far outweigh the few who do commit criminal acts, don’t sell papers nor do they attract viewers. After all, good stories and reports on Veterans do not fit in with the axiom, “if it bleeds it leads.”

It is totally hypocritical of the media to report on employers being unwilling to hire Veterans when it is they who perpetuate the myth of the Deranged Veteran with their strong coverage of the few who do wrong, always making sure to mention they are a Veteran, and give little or no counter coverage to the huge amount of good Veterans do for their individual community.

It is they who instill the thought of Veterans of going berserk in the workplace as they publish report after report of PTSD Veterans while not acknowledging how small the numbers actually are, misleading employers to believe it is all of us.

They do not report to employers of the highly skilled abilities learned in the Military or how those skills could easily be worked into their place of business. They do not report how the discipline and sense of duty learned by Veterans would mean tasks done on time, complex problems worked out with the utmost of ability. They simply ignore the importance of teamwork taught Veterans to accomplish a mission would easily translate to greater cooperation in the work place.

Mentioned above was the fear that PTSD could be caught by others at work as it if were a common cold. PTSD is not communicable.

But, a sense of working together, leading others and cooperation that Veterans had to use in the Military is caught by others.

Devoting funds to help Veterans return to civilian life is great. But money doesn’t solve everything. NO amount of money can overcome the misperception of Veterans the media teaches people.

The truth about who and what we Veterans are could accomplish much more

12 Comments to “The Shame of America, Homeless Veterans”

  1. Lew, this well written essay describes how I feel about every American – not just military people.

    p.s. I’ve added “idolization of the military” to the Conservative Values list. No disrespect, insult, or snideness intended.

  2. Martin, perhaps you forget that I am a Veteran and have been subjected to the vitriol slung by the anti-war left upon return from Vietnam and since.

    It is not so much “idolization” as it setting the record straight.

    What other class of American citizens is subjected to frequent reports indicating dangers to others based upon their job & service?

    No, it is not idolization, but respect and appreciation where due.

    And yes, I blame those who think we are hapless victims based upon our service and spread the fear of us throughout the land.

    Should I add “apathy towards Veterans” to my list on liberals?

  3. Tough discussion, Lew. What you think about the military certainly isn’t what I think but we’re not on opposite ends. As I said above, I agree with your premise – I simply see it applying to everyone. It’s hard to write more because what you’re saying is correct.

  4. Lew, I must say this that I am one of those who are anti war – always have been and always will be…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen as evidenced by our nation’s history. Sometimes…the necessity for war arises (as long as it isn’t abused by those in power for their own personal gain or to fulfill the obligation set forth by prior presidents, even when not warranted).

    I must also say to you that just because I am anti war, doesn’t mean I’m anti military or anti veteran. Quite the opposite in fact. It hurts me so to see those who have risked their lives to keep our country as free as possible. It truly aches me to see the masses of graves at Willamette National Cemetery on Memorial Day with a small token of appreciation…bearing the US flag for which to this day, I am so very proud to see it drifting in the wind atop a flag pole…knowing what it stands for…the dedication, the reality of what each and every military person has given up just to keep America free. It aches me to see these young men and women who have suffered injuries from the war (whether they be physical or emotional). It is my opinion that they still suffer the deep emotion of war which all of us who have not served…not a single one of us could know what they are enduring, but they have suffered these injuries knowing all too well that they have given their all…120% of their efforts in order to …well …not to sound cliche’ but…to be all they could be for the home land.

    And to a good number of the homeless vets, they suffer injuries with no assistance from our government. The flashbacks, the paralysis, the shrapnel still lodged within the confines of their body…the scars…missing limbs…broken homes…the loneliness…

    ..only to have the people who they swore an oath to protect at ALL costs…ignore them??? To refuse to hire them??? To refuse help at their lowest time???????

    Oh…my Lord…this is so very wrong!!! DEAD wrong!!!

    For each and every veteran in our nation, I thank you from the bottom of my heart…knowing only what I have witnessed over the years and what veterans who have shared their experiences with me, as well as what I have read…that the true spirit of freedom of America comes from those who have served. To this day, when I watch the F-15’s fly over my home…I take pride in their efforts as I take pride in the efforts of our Fighting Brave, both past and present…as well as future.

    The government should never turn their back on those who have served and NEITHER SHOULD WE!!!

    Folks…here’s a lesson for you…Try to understand just why it is fireworks are set off on Independence Day. It’s not for the barbecues, the gathering, the entertainment. It’s to commemorate our freedom, thanks to those who have served.

  5. Goldie, someone simply being anti-war does not bother me. I may not agree with their reasons, but we fought to protect the freedom to disagree as well.

    That being said, you know how we were treated during and after Vietnam, it is well documented in spite of later denials that it happened by some.

    That being said, my point in the essay is how America continues to treat returning Veterans. In this case, while media rightfully brings out that employers unfairly scorn veterans all too often, they fail to see it is they who instill that fear of Veterans with their lop sided coverage, maximizing the few who go wrong while not balancing that the overall vast majority assume productive lives and adjust.

    But, the lopsided coverage is applied to all of us since that is all people read.

    The media is once again trying to have it both ways, causing a problem then reporting how wrong it is others respond to their articles.

    Back in the day, whenever there was media coverage like the opening and commemoration of the Wall in D.C., did the cameras focus on the well dressed businessmen behind the Memorial? Or did they turn the cameras to a lone or a few guys dressed in jungle fatigues and booney hat, dirty, unshaven and looking haggard?

    They don’t help by placing selling their media above proper and balanced reporting.

  6. Lew, as you had already guessed accordingly, I was born and raised during the Vietnam War era and as a young teenager, I had relatives and friends returning from that region in the early 70’s. Maybe it’s because when I was in my most impressionable age, I’d actually been around several of those who returned…some with missing limbs, others whose mind constantly played tricks on them. I’m sure you know of the issues of drugs while in Vietnam…I’ve heard it was just to numb them to the fact that they’d be shooting blindly at the other side and it was their way of dealing with it while in Nam. In the late 70’s,

    I’d moved to Vancouver. There was a gentleman…a war hero in fact…who lived on the next street over. He’d never received help from the effects of the war…and his mind was all but gone. He used to take his shotgun and shoot in the air at passing jet liners just about every day…thinking they were the enemy aircraft. As I recall, most people in the neighborhood called him a psycho. I called him a war casualty AND a casualty of our government.

    Six months later, our neighbors moved in. I don’t know how many times I had to comfort the younger two at our home while their father went through his frightful episodes of memories of rescuing injured men on the lines, loading them into the helicopters…and watching as a mortar knocked one of the helicopters clean out of the sky, killing all on board…the same people who he tried to save as well as his close friends. This Fourth of July??? Let me tell you this, Lew…I truly feel for those who are going through the active symptoms of PTSD, whether they are in homes or on the street. The mortar-shell fireworks are grim reminders of the battlefield to those experiencing the frightful nightmares. Some…they never get out of it BECAUSE they couldn’t get the help to overcome the fatiguing experience of PTSD.

    It’s easy for people to think the ol’ drunk on the street corner is just begging to get a free handout when they see the man…with pain in his eyes and has given up on the system. Why should he care any more??? If our own government…if the people for that matter don’t care…he’s not going to either.

  7. And Lew… the last paragraph in my last post is meant to be with a tone of sarcasm…I hope you recognized that.

    Also Lew…what’s wrong with this picture?

    The US Government failed to help the Vets from the Vietnam War…treating them like miscreants. Until recent years, the Government decided it was time to make a big “to do” by erecting these walls to show America they care…yet still too many veterans are left in the dust with like you say…inferior medical care and few jobs. Right away, they’re thought of as someone who’s hot on the trigger, ready to blow at moment’s notice. Well even if they were, it’s no wonder. They just aren’t getting the help they need…and I speak of those who should get help and have not, although some may be in denial that they have a problem.

    The stigma of the fighting brave…going across oceans to kill…haunts them as those on the stateside refuse to hire because they were doing what they were told to do. These folks are highly trained in the skills they received before hitting the lines. Some have skills many folks can only dream about as they can’t afford college (and lately, I don’t have the greatest respect for college training providing any jobs).

    The tragedy of this entire issue is…jobs are outsourced and companies buy from foreign soil when we could easily get on board and get America working again. You know, I was afraid this was going to happen once the boys and girls began returning. Jobs have been downsized, companies folded or moved…and the jobs many of the fighting brave had held before going to Iraq or Afghanistan had disappeared.

  8. I sometimes wonder this…maybe our fighting brave aren’t getting the help they need because very few or maybe even nobody is capable of understanding just what it is they are going through and the fighting brave recognize that, only to be discouraged.

    I try to understand what it is they are going through…all the chaos, the fighting, injuries and death…lives disrupted, always looking over your back…taking notice to the slightest move, watching where you step or where you drive….military red tape…nevermind the morbid scenes they witness…

    …only to come back to a country where most take life for granted and complain because the lettuce they bought in the store two days ago wilted too quickly or the driver in the other car had to be first in line at the next red light.

  9. Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked…but I guess it’s because I’m trying to understand just why it is America is turning their backs on those who gave it their all to protect our freedom.

  10. Goldie, there is no simple answer, each incident is different. But people like Dr. Phil don’t help by airing shows pretending to be caring and titling it “From Heroes to Monsters” as he paints all Veterans as monsters.

    PTSD is a complex matter, most cases amounting to the person shying away from others, shutting himself out or jumping at sudden loud noises. The cases of where somebody might actually freak out and go berserk are very rare, in spite of what the media tries to show.

    Vets are notorious for not seeking help when it is available, wanting not to appear weak.

    One thing I believe that contributes to real cases is how we tie the Troops hands behind their back when our enemies use whatever tactic they desire to kill them. We slap our Troops with ridiculous Rules of Engagement limiting on how they may defend themselves and maximize media reports of when someone does do wrong.

    In Vietnam, we had rules that if we received ground fire we were supposed to radio back for permission to return fire out of fear their might be known “friendlies” in the area. If I’m being shot at, my first thought isn’t worrying about who is shooting.

    Another thing that doesn’t help is wannabes playing like they are deranged Vets, seeking sympathy or thinking they are acting like we do since the media portrays us as such. I can’t say for a fact since I wasn’t there, but your old crazy neighbor sounds as if he might be one of those.

    Most don’t go around acting out, shooting at passing aircraft or repeatedly speaking in great detail, they hold it in and suffer in silence. They may argue or suddenly get very angry, but you won’t be told it is because of the war.

    There are also those who served but never got near the front lines or combat and yet, have the greatest stories of combat heroics and even atrocities they claim to have committed and laugh about.

    That is one of the reasons the Stolen Valor Act was important to us, to have a way to stop wannabes and phonies, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional last week, giving those people free rein to lie with little more retribution than ridicule.

    They damage real Veterans.

    For many years I struggled to figure out why I didn’t fit the mold of those Veterans always featured in TV reports. I feel for the hype too. It took years before I figured out I was the normal Veteran and deal with my personal memories as I can.

    Most of us that were there can smell BS war stories a mile away and engaging those telling them, can usually trip them up without them realizing they screwed up, trying to impress us with tales of heroics were know are not true.

    It’s not only the government, it is society itself that listens and follows what they are told, what they read and what they hear instead of just meeting with Veterans and getting to know us.

    And even with that, it is not everybody in society either. There are several people that know the portrayals are BS and hype.

    But as I try to indicate in the post, you will always read headlines of Veteran robs bank or Veteran beats spouse and worse if a Veteran does wrong, but how often do you read Veteran saves family from fire, Veteran foils robbery, Veteran opens business and thrives or even veteran elected to office?

    Reporting the good we do doesn’t sell papers, only reporting the bad a few do does.

    There is no easy answer to this, but I really feel the media could do a lot more to stop the negative portrayals if they wanted to.

  11. Lew…you said it so very well. I truly appreciate your explanation…and I wholly support what you are saying. The media has a lot to do…if not most of the blame…for painting a picture that doesn’t exist. It makes me wonder if the media hype was fed by those who would rather prevent spending government budget $$$ on helping the vets than doing what should come as first priority…war casualties which are longstanding. You know, when reality hits home and the average Joe who really didn’t have a clue as to what the Veterans are enduring…it’s a slap in the face to those numbed by what they see on the boob tube.

    Thanks, Lew.

  12. A final note…

    It is shameful that the US Supreme Court has ruled the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional, but I have a hunch (without seeing it firsthand) it was all because of the way it was written in the first place.

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