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Homelessness, Returning Veterans, and the Universal Living Wage

Veteran's Memorial in OregonMemorial Day should be every day, because to forget the people and events of the past is to wallow in stupidity. In other words, ignoring makes us ignorant.

One thing that must not be ignored is the existence of an enormous number of homeless military veterans. Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless observed Memorial Day this year by sharing his knowledge via Fox News.

On the most mundane level, many practical difficulties are in the way of returning veterans. It’s easy to think, “The military gives them training, what’s the problem?”

The problem is, as Richard explains, that even if a veteran is lucky enough to have learned a skill that can be used in the larger world — medical technician, for instance — this in no way guarantees that the person will find a job. In one state, it may be as simple as passing a written test, to be granted the certification of a licensed practical nurse. In another state, the ruling body of LVNs might not recognize government service as either legitimate training or job experience.

But the majority of veterans don’t have what are called “transferable skills,” meaning that while they may have been the very best at what they did in the military, civilian life doesn’t need that particular skill, and is not willing to pay for it. The job market isn’t that great, anyway, for anybody (with the possible exception of those willing to relocate to Minot, ND.) A lot of people are stuck with minimum-wage jobs, and Richard’s Memorial Day talk includes an introduction to the Universal Living Wage (ULW).

It’s an idea worth exploring, and the place to do that is the ULW website which includes everything — what the U.S. Conference of Mayors said about the inability of a minimum-wage worker to afford basic housing anywhere in the country; why the ULW is good for business; and why it’s good for taxpayers:

Until our businesses pay ‘Living Wages’ — the minimum amount to afford basic food, clothing and shelter — we, the taxpayers, will continue to suffer as long as we are required to pay for excess food stamps, TANF, Welfare and Earned Income Credits.

There are commonalities between returning veterans and everybody else in the job market. Some vets have never seen combat in their entire military career, so they are on a more even footing with civilians, when competing for jobs. But combat veterans are a different story. Some tend to have missing limbs, or disabling head injuries. A lot of them have post-traumatic stress disorder, which is very real, and the ways in which it manifests can be quite troublesome to society as well as to individuals and families.

Of the people experiencing homelessness in America, more than a quarter are veterans, and many of them have serious problems, which means an extra layer of difficulty in the process of becoming employed, productive, housed citizens. Even in a best-case scenario, fitting back into ordinary life is a culture shock. As Richard says, “Vets go from the battlefield to the neighborhood overnight.” The abrupt transition is disorienting.

This is, in fact, one of the major points made by Karl Marlantes in his book, What It Is Like to Go To War, where the roles of myth, ritual, initiation, reverence, and psychology are extensively discussed. Anthony Swofford, another veteran/author, says:

Marlantes is the best American writer right now on war and the extreme costs to society of sending young men and women off to combat without much of a safety net for them when they land back home.

The website Make the Connection describes the problems with which it hopes to help veterans:

Some of the challenges that come with transitioning from the military can be difficult, stressful, or put a strain on your relationships. You might find it hard to enjoy the things you usually like doing. You may be having a tough time dealing with the death of friends that you served with. Chronic pain or other medical conditions may pose additional challenges.

People who come back from combat zones might not be able to sleep like they need to. They might feel edgy and tense, and have trouble concentrating, and find it difficult to control irritable and angry impulses. Depression can envelop a life for weeks or months. A person might have an exaggerated need for perfectionism, left over from the days when a small detail could make the difference between life and death.

Returning veterans need this kind of information, and need to know they are appreciated and not as isolated from society as they might feel. Civilians need this kind of information too, to get a better picture of the reasons for the homeless veteran situation, and find inspiration to do more about it. As Richard says:

Hug and kiss a returning Veteran, then give them a Living Wage Job.

Reactions?

Source: “How homelessness impacts returning veterans,” Fox News, 05/30/12
Source: “Anthony Swofford on America’s Best War Writer, Karl Marlantes,” The Daily Beast, 11/11/11
Source: “Transitioning from Service,” Make the Connection
Image by Tracy Vierra, used under its Creative Commons license.