America's Hidden Shame?
Our treatment of veterans of the American military has created a subculture of men and women, scarred by battle, who lack the skills necessary to successfully return to civilian life. They may never be able to return to the life they had before active duty. But they are also unable to adjust to the new life that awaits them.
Sometimes, the changes in these brave men and women may be apparent in tiny, almost indiscernible ways. They may jump when a car backfires, and constantly sweep new locations with their eyes, alert for signs of danger. But others will have changed in more dramatic and life-altering ways: Violent outbursts, crying jags, drug and alcohol addiction, the inability to hold a job, lack of emotion, and self-imposed isolation.
True, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know who will survive unscathed, and who will be forever psychologically and physically impaired. But those who seek help are often left, without assistance, to traverse a mind-blowing morass of red-tape and regulations. Others are simply unaware that they need help, until the damage becomes evident with a life-altering event. Many American veterans have never been properly evaluated or diagnosed. They are, quite literally, left to sink or swim.
Is it any surprise that sometimes veterans and their families perceive the American public and our government as ungrateful and disrespectful?
Our country does not hesitate to ask our citizens to serve in armed conflicts around the world. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, more than 21.4 million men or women, or 9 percent of the civilian population, were veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. But when, as a result of service, veterans lose their homes, their families, their health, their livelihood, and the comforts we take for granted, we fail to act.
Some veterans will never return from that little dark rabbit hole into which their lives plunged after combat. But that does not mean they are not owed and do not deserve the right to cleanly and successfully transition back into civilian life.
America’s hidden shame translates into staggering statistics:
- According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, on any given night in America, between 130,000 and 200,000 veterans are homeless.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 722,000 veterans were unemployed in 2013. Of that population, 60 percent were age 45 and over; 35 percent, ages 25 to 44; and 5 percent, ages 18 to 24. Veterans with a service-related disability had an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent.
- No one knows how many incarcerated veterans suffer from undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses or psychological conditions resulting from, or exacerbated by, military service. But a recent article in U.S. News and World Report says, “After Vietnam, the number of inmates with prior military service rose steadily until reaching a peak in 1985, when more than one in five was a veteran. By 1988, more than half of all Vietnam veterans diagnosed with PTSD reported that they had been arrested. More than one third reported they had been arrested multiple times. Today, veterans’ advocates fear that, unless they receive proper support, a similar epidemic may befall soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
- The article continues: “(T)he most recent survey, compiled by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004, found that nearly one in 10 inmates in U.S. jails had prior military service. Extrapolated to the total prison population, this means that approximately 200,000 veterans were behind bars.”
- According to a July 2010 report by the organization, Costs of War, child abuse in Army families is three times higher in homes in which a parent has been deployed. That same study says between 2001 and 2011, alcohol use associated with physical domestic violence in Army families increased by 54 percent and with child abuse, 40 percent.
- The study by Costs of War concludes:
“While resilience is real, the burdens of these wars that have fallen on veterans and their families include higher rates of suicide and mental illness, increased drug and alcohol dependence, higher rates of violence including homicide and child abuse and neglect (the latter both among the parent left behind and by the returning veteran), high risk behaviors that have resulted in elevated numbers of car crashes and drug overdoses, elevated levels of homelessness and divorce, and clinical levels of stress among the children.”
While many veterans’ organizations honor military service, few provide workable solutions to clearly identified problems among the veteran population. We respect them for their mission, and thank them for continuing to observe the traditions of duty, honor, and country. But we believe that we must take the process one step further by ensuring that veterans have the opportunity to successfully transition to civilian life.
Northern Virginia Consortium for Community Development, Inc. (NVCCD), supports programs that assist veterans in accessing the benefits and services to which they are entitled, as well as programs that aid veterans in transitioning back into civilian life, among them Veterans Resource Centers, Mobile Veterans Service Officer Units, and job creation programs, such as the proposed Olympic Structures Recycling Project, the building of the proposed Washington International Sports Complex (WISC), and initiatives involving disaster response, cyber-security, and community development. Housing initiatives include the creation of Command and Control (C&C) houses, which will not only house homeless veterans, but assist them in rebuilding social and communication skills through the renovation of distressed properties. Participants in this program will also be able to earn home ownership. In addition, NVCCD supports a program that encourages a constructive renewal and strengthening of familial relationships through opportunities for rest and relaxation.
NVCCD works in partnership with Battle Proven Foundation, LLC and many other organizations, to ensure that the programs are properly implemented and administered.
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