Retirement and Community Involvement

The Great American Tragedy: Homelessness Among Our Veterans

An article in USA  Today reports that on a given night, more than 75,000 veterans (male and  female) are living homeless on the streets of their cities. Nearly half (40%)  of all homeless males are veterans. The homeless are often looked down upon in  American society. They are often seen as lowly beggars, leeching off of the  system. The true tragedy is when we see our brave, courageous, strong soldiers  fall to homelessness. What we often don’t understand is what would cause our  protectors, our soldiers, to give up on ambition and dreams to live an  unfulfilled life on the corner of Main Street. We don’t understand this because  we will never know, as our soldiers did, the trauma of war.

Veterans have to deal with high rates of Post-Traumatic  Stress Disorder and often may have traumatic brain injuries or sexual trauma.  Due to their experiences in war, Veterans may often want to be secluded and are  more likely to live unsheltered and outdoors. According to the United States  Interagency Council on Homelessness, Veterans are also most likely to  experience long-term, chronic homelessness.

Generally, a homeless person is expected to have not  graduated from high school, but studies show that 85% of homeless veterans have  completed high school or received a GED. On the other hand, only 56% of  non-veteran homeless have completed high school. Furthermore, our homeless veterans  were not necessarily the ‘problem soldiers’ in the army. Eighty-nine percent of  homeless veterans received Honorable Discharges and 67% served in the military  for three or more years.

These men and woman risked their lives for our country. They  gave of their time and their service honorably and without question. And now,  nearly half of them are living alone on the streets, not knowing how to get the  help they deserve.

When faced with these statistics, most peoples’ attention  immediately turns to the government. They ask questions like “Why would  the government allow their own veterans to suffer and beg on the streets?”  and “Why has our government failed to help our homeless veterans?”

We may not currently see a large impact from government  programs, but they are there, and they are helping. Our government cares about our  veterans and so does our President. In 2011, President Obama set the goal to  end chronic homelessness among veterans by 2015. When he set his goal, Obama  implemented the plan entitled Opening Doors. Opening  Doors is a federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness within  five years.

Opening Doors implements five points. The first is to  provide affordable housing to veterans and then second to provide permanent  supportive housing. Supportive housing is shown to be a most affective bridge  between homelessness and independent housing. A study was conducted as part of  the Federal Collaborative Initiative to Help End Chronic-Homelessness, and it  concluded that 95% of the participants were in independent housing after one  year in a permanent supportive housing arrangement.

The third point is to increase meaningful and sustainable  employment. It is important that the job a veteran receives matches his/her  skills so that they feel their work is meaningful and that they are needed to  remain in the job for a long period of time. The fourth point is to reduce  financial vulnerability by enhancing information, reducing barriers, and  improving access to services. This point emphasizes making homeless veterans  aware of the government programs available to help them.

The fifth and final point is to transform the homeless  crisis response system. This is the point at which the government transfers its  burden to the community. There needs to be a quicker response to homeless  veterans showing up in a city. People need to take notice and spread the word  to these veterans about the help that is available to them. The community also  needs to be involved with re-housing. The veteran will feel a greater  connection to the community reaching out to them rather than the government.

Government programs are fantastic, and they are helping many  veterans, but according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the VA  Department of the United States is only able to serve about 25% of the veterans  in need. This would leave approximately 300,000 veterans each year who are left  to seek help elsewhere. When the government’s reach cannot go any farther, the  community has an obligation to step in.

These 300,000 veterans who are not able to receive help from  the VA will turn to local government agencies and volunteer organizations. They  will turn to their community for help. The National Coalition for Homeless  Veterans states that the most effective programs are “community-based,  nonprofit, ‘veterans helping veterans’ groups.”

The community and the individual within that community has a  chance to help decrease the amount of homeless veterans. Our veterans gave  their all for our country; it’s time that we take a moment to give back to  them. The largest problem is a lack of information. In this area, community  outreach can make a big impact on the amount of homeless veterans that are  receiving help. Many veterans seclude themselves. According to a study of  homeless veterans, 96% of them are alone rather than part of or near family.  They don’t have anyone else, and many of them have no idea that there is so  much help available for them. Beyond government programs, there are countless  volunteer organizations and also local government agencies. It is the  responsibility of the individuals within a community to help spread the word of  relief to the veterans who are currently without family and without a home.

You  can find more information on the government’s plan to end veteran homelessness  as well as information on what you can do to help the homeless veterans in your  community by following this link: http://www.va.gov/homeless/for_the_community.asp

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About Roger O'Keefe

My background is in education and finance. I'm a published author and photographer, former radio talk show host, and creative retirement planning expert. My work is a love of labor, I do not sell any products of any kind. I've appeared as a guest on more than 50 national and local television and radio shows. With a Masters in education, I'm a licensed educator and author of the “Future Bright Program” and the California State Department of Education “Teacher Appreciation Program.” I'm a member of the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Care Planning Council NCPC. I'm currently writing my second book and reside in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. My mission is to reshape retirement planning one person at a time. Please visit my website www.creativeretirementplanning.net and take advantage of the many complimentary online seminars, resources, and retirement planning tools.
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