As America wraps up its 246th birthday with BBQs and huge firework displays, what more patriotic time to talk about a fast-growing epidemic in this country revolving around the men and women who make it possible for us to say “happy 4th of July”.
Since WWII ended, the rise of homeless veterans has been astronomical. According to Green Door, a website that advocates for affordable housing, 17% of the US homeless population are veterans. In 2010, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) estimated that about 76,000 homeless veterans were sleeping on streets on a normal night.
Some other shocking statistics include that 53% of homeless veterans are disabled, compared to 43% of non-homeless veterans. About 56% of all homeless veterans are either African-Americans or Hispanic, despite making up 12.8% and 15.4% of the US population, respectively. The peak of the epidemic came during the end of the Vietnam war. The war that divided the country also divided people in how veterans should be treated. After discovering the Johnson administration lied about our “victory” over Vietnam, the American people turned against those fighting on the front lines. 44.9% of the Vietnam veterans that returned to the states found themselves homeless. From then on, we’ve seen massive spikes of homeless veterans and those on the verge of becoming homeless. Over 968,000 vets lived below the poverty line. Of those veterans, 20,000 lost their government-sponsored mortgages and became homeless.
It’s also estimated that 1.5 million veterans will be at risk of homelessness due to more than 50% of their income going towards rent. And for 46% of the 1.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan troops seeking disability compensation, the wait time to get a disability claim is averaging eight months. Another downside is that for a 10% disabled vet, they would get $127 a month. Female veterans are not exempt from this misfortune either. As a matter of fact, the number of homeless female veterans has risen from just 150 in 2006 to 1,700 in 2011. The VA reported that in that same year, 18% of all veterans helped by them were women. Another leading cause of homelessness for our brave troops involves isolation. Fighting wars is not a pretty job, and the grotesque and inhumane things these men and women have seen have led to 75% of veterans developing some form of PTSD. The backlash of PTSD includes major depression and becoming increasingly hostile and aggressive. These factors play a role in one in every five veterans’ marriages ending in divorce, often leaving them without stability and eventually living on the streets.
One may look at these numbers and wonder what is being done to help our nation’s defenders. Despite the high numbers, there are some promising actions taking place. The VA intends to house 38,000 homeless veterans in 2022. Last year, the 117th congress introduced a bill entitled “Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2021.” The bill provides financial assistance for supportive services for very low-income veteran families in permanent housing, a grant program for homeless veterans with special needs, treatment and rehabilitation for seriously mentally ill and homeless veterans, housing assistance for homeless veterans, and more. While it has yet to be passed, optimism remains strong on the floor of congress.
Virginia, Connecticut, and Delaware, and 82 communities in the US, from Riverside, California to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, have all announced that they are free of homeless veterans.
So what can the American people do? Well, there needs to be more of a push from the voters come November to vote for representatives that will make strong pushes in helping get laws passed for the homeless veterans. Until then, reach out to local legislators to have your voices heard as constituents. It’s also important for communities to get together and show support for our troops and help them feel seen. You can also volunteer at a veterans homeless shelter or start a food drive for them. Any small act of kindness goes a long way. So as Americans, let’s continue celebrating the men and women who are the reason we can have the fireworks and BBQ’s the right way by ending the terrible epidemic once and for all.